Thursday, May 17, 2007
Hundreds Gather for Self-Represented Litigants Conference
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
The opening day of California’s Conference on Self-Represented Litigants drew a “very enthusiastic and dedicated group” of about 300 judicial officers, court administrators, lawyers and self-help center providers, Administrative Director of the Courts William C. Vickrey said yesterday.
Attendees at the event, now in its second and final day at the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero in San Francisco, appeared “very committed to trying to reduce the economic barriers to getting into court and trying to come up with a broad array of ways to insure the people do have access to the court,” the AOC’s executive director told the MetNews.
The conference, which debuted last year, is being hosted by the Judicial Council’s Task Force on Self-Represented Litigants and will be followed on Friday by a national conference at the AOC, where experts from across the country will convene to discuss self-represented litigation.
Task force member and Second District Court of Appeal Justice Laurie D. Zelon, who is scheduled to present a workshop today on ethical issues judges face in handing cases with self-represented litigants, explained the purpose of the state conference:
“It’s to talk about innovations and best practices, how to educate, how to deal with various issues that arise. It’s both to share info about what people have already done that’s been successful and also to talk about what the next steps need to be.”
Members of the local legal community who are set to speak at the conference today include Los Angeles Superior Court Managing Research Attorney Kathleen Dixon, who supervises the court’s JusticeCorps program. Along with Dixon, who is expected to address the effective use of volunteers, the Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County’s Executive Director Neal Dudovitz is scheduled to participate in a panel on funding strategies used by various county, court, and legal aid partnerships for self-represented litigant services.
In a previous MetNews interview, Dixon said she looked forward to this week’s conference as an opportunity to share lessons learned from the now-three-year-old JusticeCorps—which trains 100 college-level student interns each year to help self-represented litigants with the legal process in unlawful detainer, family law and small claims cases.
Vickrey noted the topic of self-represented litigation is “gaining interest” in both California and throughout the country both because of the growing number of individuals who cannot afford counsel, and the courts’ growing awareness of those who have been “historically excluded” from access to justice due to economic and other barriers.
For example, he said, the Judicial Council of California has for the first time proposed a rule of court identifying the services of court self-help centers as a “core function” of the judicial system.
The proposed rule, which is out for public comment until June 20, provides that court programs designed to assist self-represented litigants “must be incorporated and budgeted as core court functions,” and mandates that trial courts include self-help center funding in their annual budgets. Additionally, proposed rule 10.960 calls for the AOC to develop and disseminate guidelines and procedures for the operation of court self-help centers by March 1, 2008.
“Courts need to be part of the solution in providing the leadership and trying to bring together elements of local government and private community programs to try to see that there is a broad based appropriate array of options,” Vickrey remarked.
Zelon said that although self-help centers are not a completely new aspect of the court’s services—$8.7 million was set aside to fund such centers this year—formally recognizing them as opposed to treating them as “something that would be nice to do if we could” would ensure funding and “help in priority-setting.”
Dudovitz added that the rule would bring clarification and uniformity in self-help services statewide.
“We have so much going on now in all different courts throughout the state, various models, that we need to begin to set some limits and some positive influences so that the courts will take advantage of these systems but also be sure that they really meet the needs of litigants.”
Yesterday’s conference agenda included numerous workshops addressing the implementation, impact and operation of self-help centers, and today’s schedule includes a presentation of research findings on court self-help assistance.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company