Judge Thomas J. Brannan and Circuit Clerk Penny Hoke announced the opening of a new online legal self-help center at a press conference today. The new Menard County Legal Self-Help Center can be used by anyone with a computer and high speed internet access. The center provides legal information for simpler, civil legal problems often faced by lower income people. The website was created to provide correct and current legal information to those individuals who must go to court but who cannot afford or find an attorney to represent them. For people without access to an internet-enabled computer, public access computers at the Petersburg Public Library and the Athens Municipal Library will be available for individuals to use.
The new center is the result of the collaboration among the Circuit Court of Menard County, the Menard County Circuit Clerk’s Office, the Petersburg Public Library, the Athens Municipal Library, Sojourn Shelter Services and Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation. Technical support and assistance was provided by the Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice and Illinois Legal Aid Online. The center is available online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at http://Menard.IllinoisLegalAid.org.
“Each month more and more people are coming into court without an attorney to represent them. Very often these litigants have no idea about how to present their case to the judge. The new legal self-help center will help these people by giving them information about their legal problem and how the court works,” said Judge Thomas Brannan. “There really isn’t any substitute for a qualified attorney to represent people in court but for many people this is not a realistic option,” he said. “Unrepresented litigants will need to take time to prepare for their court hearing if they wish to be effective in court,” Judge Brannan said.
“Every day people come into our office looking for help because they cannot afford an attorney to represent them,” said Circuit Clerk Penny Hoke. “We are not attorneys and until now, we haven’t had resources to refer them to which are easy to understand and use. “This will be a great benefit to these unrepresented people.” The Office of the Circuit Clerk will begin handing out a sheet which lists options for lower income people to find legal help as well as information about the Menard County Legal Self-Help Center.
“We help victims of domestic violence secure Orders of Protection from the court. Many of our clients have other legal problems as well but cannot find an attorney to help them. In addition to the automated Order of Protection forms, our clients will be able to use the website to find information on other legal problems that they may have,” said Cathy Tapscott from Sojourn Shelter.
“The Petersburg Public Library is happy to be a part of this project. Libraries are places where people come to find information. The online center will give our patrons access to current information on Illinois law, which will be very useful,” said Mary Kleinschmidt, Director of the Petersburg Public Library. Donna Cunningham, Director of the Athens Municipal Library was also supportive of the project.
“Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation attempts to represent as many low income people as possible using either staff or pro bono attorneys,” said Lauren Pashayan, Managing Attorney of Land of Lincoln’s Springfield Office which serves Menard County. “However, the bad economy has increased the number of people eligible for our services but at the same time, our funding is decreasing. Even before the recession, we could help only about 20% of the people who qualify financially for our help. The legal self-help center will help provide improved access to the court system for people who we cannot help,” she said.
The Menard County Legal Self-Help Center website has legal information on simpler civil legal problems commonly faced by lower income people as well as instructional videos, automated legal forms and other legal information on such things as powers of attorney, Medicare, Medicaid and unemployment compensation.
The Menard County Legal Self-Help Center is the seventy-third such center opened in Illinois since 2007 by the Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice and Illinois Legal Aid Online working in collaboration with local court systems, public libraries, legal aid organizations, local bar associations and other community organizations. Illinois Legal Aid Online is a nonprofit organization with offices in Chicago. It has developed and maintains the underlying website for the center. The Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice is a joint project of the Illinois State Bar Association and the Chicago Bar Association.
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