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Clark County self-help center helps pro se litigants

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When pro se litigants find themselves in a courthouse for the first time, there’s a good chance they aren’t quite sure what to do. That includes knowing where to go, who to talk to, or even how to dress and behave in a court setting.

In the Clark County courthouse in Jeffersonville, just across the river from Louisville, a self-help center for pro se litigants in civil cases has been operational since late May. The second phase of the project, adding computer equipment and software for litigants to prepare and print forms for filing, as well as the placement of a sign donated by The Estopinal Group to recognize supporters, was celebrated Dec. 14.

That celebration included Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Melissa May and Clark Circuit Judge Daniel Moore as the keynote speakers. At least 60 attorney volunteers, court staff, and other supporters of the center including Jeffersonville Mayor Tom Galligan and Charlestown Mayor Bob Hall were present.

Judge May said when she first heard about the idea for the center she was intrigued, and she called Judge Moore to learn more about it. As chair of the Indiana Pro Bono Commission, she was also able to help the center receive a grant from the Indiana Bar Foundation.

Because many people don’t know how to find a lawyer, let alone what questions to ask when they do have one, and because others prefer to not hire a lawyer, this center can help address a range of needs, Judge May explained.pro se

As a judge, it can be difficult when litigants come before her without representation, she said. Likewise, it is not always easy for attorneys to represent clients in court when the other party is pro se.

Judge Moore said the center had a “simple goal to provide service, provide direction, and provide guidance to those who walk into the courthouse.”

The idea for the center started about a year ago, said J. Mark Robinson, managing attorney of the New Albany office of Indiana Legal Services Inc.

“We started as a pretty small group with the idea we could provide pamphlets and some direction in the courthouse,” said ILS attorney Marianne Conrad. In addition to attorneys, the group included accountants, clergy, and other members of the community.

Clark County Bar Association President Thomas R. Thomas Sr. of Jeffersonville said when people come to the courthouse, they often ask the clerk or public defender for help. Indeed, the door to the public defender’s office is surrounded by signs that say there is no public phone available and that it is not a public space.

To get the center going, organizers worked with the Legal Aid Society of Louisville which, like ILS, is part of the Legal Service Corporation. Organizers for the Clark County center were impressed by what the Louisville agency had done in terms of helping self-represented litigants. That organization has a self-help center open four days a week in their offices.

Like the Legal Aid Society of Louisville, the clinic in Jeffersonville works with law students at the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville.

To help pro se litigants, a volunteer attorney will supervise one or two students from the Louisville law school on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. The students conduct interviews with the litigants on their legal concerns.

During a recent session that Robinson supervised, litigants’ concerns included questions about the next step in the appellate process for a case as pro se, a contract question, a question about employment where the litigant’s hours had been reduced, an immigration question, a name change inquiry, and a litigant who wanted more information about parenting time guidelines for spending time with a child during the holiday season.

Robinson added that the students did a great job of breaking the ice, explaining what the center can do and possibly most important, he said, what the center is not.

“We are not here to form an attorney-client relationship or represent the client,” he said.

What they are there to do is offer information in the form of a self-help brochure; help litigants determine which forms they need to fill out for their particular issue and how to file those in the court; and explain how they can request legal representation through ILS or the local pro bono district. If the individual can afford to pay a lawyer, the center has available a list of attorneys in the area. The desired end result is that those coming to the center will be more informed than when they first got there.

“I have yet to have someone who doesn’t verbally or even nonverbally express their appreciation for the help they’ve received from the center,” Robinson said.

Since the center first started, the 18 volunteer attorneys who rotate shifts and the law students they supervise have helped 45 to 60 people every month.

“Law schools do not teach students how to interview a client,” Judge Moore said. “These students now understand how interviewing skills can be useful.”

One volunteer, J. Spencer Harmon of Stites & Harbison in Jeffersonville, said he got involved this summer because he read about it in the local newspaper. He hadn’t done much pro bono work since law school but he wanted to help people and saw the center as a good opportunity. He now volunteers once or twice a month.

“There’s a great need,” he said. “Many people don’t understand the legal system. … They show up with their papers and ask, ‘What do I do?’”

“When they come in, they are often scared to death,” Judge Moore said. “This has a calming effect.”

The self-help center is not affiliated with any other similar programs in Indiana.

Pro se litigants around the state can also find information on appearing in court without a lawyer on the Indiana Supreme Court’s website, http://www.in.gov/judiciary/selfservice. The site includes videos, forms, and a list of what court staff can and cannot do for litigants.•

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  1. Am I the only one who sees that the City is essentially giving away the MSA site AND giving millions to build new buildings on the site when this site would be the perfect place for the Justice Complex? Across from City-County, check; keeping it centrally located, check, etc. It's my understanding that the GM site must be purchased by the City from Motors Liquidation Company. STOP WASTING WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE AND OUR TAX DOLLARS! The Ballard Administration has not been known for it's common sense...never voted for him and never will!

  2. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  3. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  4. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  5. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

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