Task force to find ways to help those who can't afford representation

By Frank Weir

Legal News

A new Michigan Supreme Court task force will promote ways to help those who cannot afford an attorney, including developing a Web site for non-lawyers who represent themselves in legal proceedings, Chief Justice Marilyn Kelly announced recently.

And the task force has a definite Washtenaw County flavor with Judge Libby Hines, attorney Lorray Brown, and WCBA Executive Director Kyeena Slater appointed to it.

Those appointments are not a surprise given that the WCBA, the EMU Paralegal Studies Program, the LSSCM, along with the county and local judiciary, have co-sponsored the Legal Resource Center for several years, a free service which is designed to assist individuals who are representing themselves.

The LRC came into existence long before the current emphasis on finding ways to help the unrepresented. It was truly ahead of its time.

While the economy has greatly increased the number of people who are eligible for civil legal aid, legal aid agencies must turn away many of them due to limited resources, Kelly explained.

"Legal aid agencies are doing a valiant job, along with the many Michigan attorneys who donate over 30,000 hours of free services each year," she said. But the need far outstrips their capacities."

Many people who cannot afford to hire an attorney try to represent themselves, Kelly noted. But, she said, many self-represented litigants find it very difficult to navigate the legal system and understand legal forms.

"I created this task force to fill the justice gap I see in our state," Kelly explained. "Many judges and court staff have tried to develop resources for those who represent themselves, but not all those resources are truly helpful or up-to-date.

"So, among other goals, the SOS Task Force will develop a statewide self-help Web site, likely modeled after the Illinois Legal Aid Web site (www.illinoislegalaid.org) that will help non-lawyers represent themselves as effectively as possible."

Other projects include developing a self-help curriculum for judicial and court staff training, and working with courts to make court forms more understandable by those with limited literacy and limited English proficiency.

Other task force members include:

* Lorray S.C. Brown, Michigan Poverty Law Program.

* Michael C. Bryce, director of Clinical Programs, University of Detroit Mercy Law School.

* Berrien County Circuit Court Judge Alfred M. Butzbaugh.

* Kari K. Deming, Lakeshore Legal Aid/Counsel and Advocacy Law Line.

* Ruth H. Dukelow, associate director, Michigan Library Consortium.

* Washtenaw County 15th District Court Judge Elizabeth Pollard Hines.

* Wayne County 36th District Court Judge Kenneth J. King, chief judge pro tem.

* Laura Mancini, director Library Services, Oakland County Law Library.

* Dawn F. McCarty, director, Michigan Judicial Institute.

* Barbara A. Menear, court administrator, Genesee County Circuit Court.

* Dawn Monk, deputy state court administrator, State Court Administrative Office, Michigan Supreme Court.

* Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Denise Langford Morris.

* Terri Stangl, executive director, Center for Civil Justice.

* Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Cynthia Stephens.

* Kyeena G. Slater, executive director, Washtenaw County Bar Association.

* Janet Welch, executive director, State Bar of Michigan.

* Valerie Ambrose, executive director, Legal Assistance Center, Kent County Courthouse.

* Michelle Alicia Carter, president, Wolverine Bar Association.

Published: Thu, Apr 22, 2010

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