Chief Judge Stephen Sawyer and Circuit Clerk Angela Crum announced the opening of a new online Wabash County Legal Self-Help Center. The new center is located physically at the Mt. Carmel Public Library but available virtually to anyone who has access to the internet. Mt. Carmel librarians will assist people in navigating the website. No legal advice is provided. For those individuals who have personal access to the internet, the legal self-help center is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at http://Wabash.IllinoisLegalAid.org. Start-up funding for the new center was provided by The Illinois Bar Foundation.
The Wabash County Legal Self-Help Center was developed to provide legal information to the increasing number of people who are coming to the courthouse without an attorney to represent them. The center is focused on providing legal information on simpler civil legal problems of lower income people including some court pleadings and videos to help people understand the judicial system. “The legal self-help center is not an adequate substitute for representation by a skilled attorney and we encourage all litigants to find legal representation, if at all possible,” said Judge Stephen Sawyer, Chief Judge of the Second Judicial Circuit. “We realize, however, that many people coming to court cannot afford an attorney and Land of Lincoln staff and pro bono attorneys cannot help everyone. If unrepresented people take the time to read the information on the website and to prepare for their court hearing, we think that their experience in court will be more successful and less intimidating,” he said.
Circuit Clerk Angela Crum expressed her support for the new legal self-help center. “Every day people come into the circuit clerk’s office seeking help because they do not have an attorney to represent them,” she said. “They do not know what to do and they are intimidated by the court system. Because we are not lawyers, we cannot provide any legal advice to these people. As a result, people are often frustrated when they leave our office. We are happy to have this new resource to which we can refer these unrepresented people to help them prepare for their court hearing,” said Ms. Crum.
“Locating the new legal self-help center at the Mt. Carmel Public Library helps us to carry out our mission of being an accessible and reliable source for information within the city and the area,” said Sandra Ward, a board member of the Mt. Carmel Public Librar. “On behalf of the staff and board of the Mt. Carmel Public Library, we are pleased to be a part of this important project,” she said.
“The Second Judicial Circuit and Chief Judge Stephen Sawyer are to be congratulated for
taking a leadership role in working to improve access to the court system in the county and the circuit,” said Joseph A. Dailing, Executive Director of the Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice. “Judge Sawyer’s support and encouragement made the process of setting up these centers much easier. Because we have an organization like Illinois Legal Aid Online which has developed and maintains the underlying body of legal information that serves as the backbone for the legal self-help center and because we have the cooperation of public libraries like the Mt. Carmel Public Library, we can establish these centers at very low cost,” he said.
The internet-based legal self-help center provides legal information and court pleadings on a broad array of simpler civil legal problems. The website also has videos explaining the court system and how to go to court. “Even though my work as a prosecutor is largely confined to criminal matters,” said State’s Attorney Cassandra Goldman, “I know that there is a great need for the legal self-help center. People even come to my office seeking assistance in civil matters. Now my staff has a place to refer them,” she said.
The homepage of the website will feature a welcoming video by Chief Judge Sawyer. The homepage also lists the location and hours of the Mt. Carmel Public Library where individuals who do not have personal access to the internet can use the library’s public access computers.
The Wabash County Legal Self-Help Center was developed by a broad-based group of people and organizations in Wabash County including Judge Sawyer, Angela Crum, Circuit Clerk, Cassandra Goldman, State’s Attorney, Jane Jones of The Guardian Center and Twilla Coon and Sandra Ward from the Mt. Carmel Public Library. The Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice and Illinois Legal Aid Online provided technical support and assistance.
The Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice is a project of the Illinois State Bar Association and The Chicago Bar Association. Illinois Legal Aid Online is an Illinois nonprofit corporation whose mission is to use technology to improve access to justice. The Wabash County Legal Self-Help Center is the seventy-fifth such center to open in Illinois since 2007.
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