Friday, March 6, 2009
Federal Pro Se Clinic Opens at U.S. District Courthouse
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
The U.S. District Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles yesterday hosted the grand opening celebration of the Federal Pro Se Clinic, housed on the fifth floor of the building.
A collaborative effort between the court, Public Counsel and Proskauer Rose LLP, the clinic provides no-cost legal advice to individuals in the federal civil court system who are unable to afford an attorney.
Chief U.S. District Judge Audrey B. Collins of the Central District of California said that almost 800 cases were brought by un-represented litigants in the past year to litigate matters such as eligibility for statutory benefits, protection against discrimination and due process rights.
“Thousands more” were filed by prisoners proceeding pro se to allege violations of their civil rights, “and then there’s still the pro se defendants,” Collins added.
Given the current economic climate, Collins opined that there is a greater need now for the services provided by the clinic than two years ago when development on the project began, “but thankfully our legal community doesn’t lack for individuals willing to make a difference.”
She claimed that the clinic was the first in any federal court resulting from a partnership between a court, a public interest law firm and an international private law firm to provide pro se assistance.
The creation of the clinic “shows we can work collaboratively and cooperatively…to do good,” Collins said. “This is the legal system at its best.”
U.S. District Court Judge A. Howard Matz, who helped secure the courthouse space for the clinic and develop the project, also discussed the difficulties faced by pro se litigants.
“Pro se literally means ‘for himself,’” Matz explained. “Imagine what it’s like…being on your own…fighting for what you believe in.”
In such a situation, “it’s hard not to feel like it’s me against the world,” the judge said.
Court rules, he said, can be “absolutely bewildering” because of the “language barrier” for even fluent English speakers, because of the law’s numerous terms of art.
Having the clinic “will do more than simply open the doors” to self-represented litigants, Matz said, because it will also work on developing forms, rules, orders and publications to further educate and assist the public.
The clinic will also “ride circuit,” he promised, and provide assistance throughout the district.
“It’s going to be great,” Matz predicted.
Funding for the project was provided in part by Proskauer Rose. The firm contributed the entirety of a $100,000-plus fee award secured by Bert Deixler, managing partner of Proskauer Rose’s Los Angeles office, in Johnson v. California—a civil rights case brought by a state prisoner to force integration of the prison system.
Proskauer Rose’s donation was used to fund a fellowship program to staff the clinic, and the fellowship was awarded to Naeun Rim, a recent graduate of Harvard Law School. Janet Lewis, a staff attorney at Public Counsel, will join Rim in administrating the clinic.
The clinic, located in room 525, will be open to the public on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 until 4.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company