Circuit Judge Ted Hamer and Circuit Clerk Debra Doss announced the opening of the new Henry County Legal Self-Help Center at a press conference today at the Cambridge Public Library. The new online legal self-help center will provide legal information, including court pleadings, non-court documents and letters, videos, and other information on civil legal problems for people who are not able to find a lawyer to represent them. The website provides information on simpler civil legal problems of lower income individuals and families.
“I am pleased to announce this collaboration between the Henry County Circuit Court and the public libraries of Henry County to provide accurate and usable legal information for people who must go to court on their own,” said Judge Ted Hamer. “While this site is accessible from any computer connected to the internet, for those people who do not have a computer with high-speed internet access, public access computers at the Cambridge, Colona, Geneseo, and Kewanee public libraries will be available for their use,” said Judge Hamer. “The website provides only general legal information, not specific legal advice,” he continued. “Users will need to decide how to use the information on their own or in consultation with an attorney,” he said.
“Every day, there are people who come into my office who must go to court, but who cannot afford to hire an attorney,” said Circuit Clerk Debra Doss. “Until now, we have had nowhere to send these people to find appropriate legal information when Prairie State Legal Services or a pro bono attorney have not been able to represent them,” she said. “Many people do not understand how the court system works nor do they know much about their legal problem,” Ms. Doss continued. “With the new Henry County Legal Self-Help Center, individuals will be able to find information about their legal problem and learn how to present their case to the judge if they take the time to prepare for their court hearing,” she said.
“Unfortunately, Prairie State Legal Services does not have enough staff to represent every individual who qualifies financially for our help,” said Gretchen Farwell, Managing Attorney of the Rock Island office of Prairie State which provides services to Henry County. “Six years ago, a statewide survey found that only one in six low-income persons with a legal problem was able to find a pro bono or legal aid attorney to represent him or her,” she said. “With the recession, the number of people needing help has increased while the number of legal aid attorneys and pro bono attorneys has stayed the same or declined, which makes it even harder to help all the people with legal problems,” she said. “We are happy that the Henry County Legal Self-Help Center is available to everyone through the cooperation of the public libraries in Henry County,” Ms. Farwell said.
“Public libraries are critical places for individuals to find information to help them in many aspects of their lives. In the age of the internet, people without a computer cannot access many sources of information, including the information found on the online legal self-help center. The public access computers at the cooperating libraries make it possible for people to access this information if they do not have their own personal computers with high-speed internet access,” said Joseph A. Dailing of the Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice. “Without the cooperation of the public libraries in Cambridge, Colona, Geneseo, and Kewanee, many people in the county would effectively be denied access to this important resource,” he said. “It was a pleasure to work with the library directors. They were not only supportive of the project, they were enthusiastic participants in the project. We couldn’t have done it without them,” he concluded.
The Henry County Legal Self-Help Center was developed under the leadership of Judge Ted Hamer and the assistance of Circuit Clerk Debra Doss as well as Clint Block of the Henry County Bar Association, Gretchen Farwell of Prairie State Legal Services, Deb Anderson of the Henry County Court Services, Susan Carlson of Freedom House Kewanee, Vicki Bluedorn of Fourteenth Judicial Circuit, Deputy Circuit Clerk Rita Taylor, Eleanor Sponsel of the Cambridge Public Library, John Sayers of the Kewanee Public Library, Claire Crawford of the Geneseo Public Library, and Phyllis Von Arb of the Colona Public Library. Stacie Colston of Illinois Legal Aid Online and Joseph Dailing of the Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice provided technical assistance and support. The Illinois Bar Foundation provided a start-up grant for the legal self-help center.
The Henry County Legal Self-Help Center is the fifty-fifth such center to be opened since May 2007. The center can be found at Henry.IllinoisLegalAid.org. The underlying website has been developed and is maintained by Illinois Legal Aid Online, an Illinois nonprofit organization. Content has been written and developed by Illinois lawyers.
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