Wednesday, July 18, 2001
Judicial Council Unveils New Website Designed to Help Pro Per Litigants
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The state Judicial Council yesterday unveiled a website that members said would provide key assistance to litigants trying to pursue their cases through the justice system without lawyers.
The California Courts Online Self-Help Center is the result of a year and a half of research and development by judges and court officials around the state who are trying to grapple with the explosion in pro per cases, especially in family law and probate matters.
“We’ve seen there’s been an enormous increase in the number of people representing themselves in family law matters especially,” Chief Justice Ronald M. George told the MetNews. “People for a variety of reasons are going it alone, mostly because they feel they can’t afford lawyers. This will enable them to better vindicate their rights and be more informed about court procedures.”
The site, at www.courtinfo.ca.gov/selfhelp, directs litigants to primers on divorce, custody, adoption, conservatorship, small claims, and a host of other areas in which statistics show pro pers are most likely to appear. There is basic information for name-changing, traffic court, landlord-tenant matters, and domestic violence.
There is also even more basic information, such as what courts do, how they work, and where they are located.
Links direct litigants to necessary forms and fee schedules. There are also links for free and low-cost legal resources and directions to law libraries.
George dismissed suggestions that the website would encourage people who may consider hiring a lawyer to instead do without.
“People are doing this often because of economic necessity,” he said.
The chief justice added that the site could be a boon even to people who do have lawyers. It will allow them to better understand their own cases and take a more active role in them, he said.
“We know that informed litigants ensure a more just and efficient process for both the litigants and the courts,” he said.
The Judicial Council has reported that 4.3 million Californians appear in court without lawyers each year. George said that in some counties, lawyers represent neither side in 30 percent of all family law matters, and only one side in another 60 percent.
George recently appointed a task force on self-represented litigants to study more fundamental changes to address the problem, such as streamlining procedures and forms.
“It’s a reality we’re going to have to face,” George said.
In the process, he added, the new website and other moves to improve access to and understanding of the courts could make all Californians make better use of the judicial system.
“What we do here has a great impact on the public’s perception of the system,” he said.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company