At the Lawrence Township trustee’s office Tuesday afternoon, court officials and community leaders unveiled the first of 120 civil legal help kiosks that will be deployed to all 92 Indiana counties to provide information and resources to individuals trying to navigate the legal system themselves.
Lawrence Township Small Claims Court Judge Kimberly Bacon described the new kiosks as an example of what can be achieved when “those of us on the front line” work together.
“Today we are unveiling the first-of-its-kind resource in Indiana, connecting individuals to an extensive portal of easily accessible resources,” Bacon said during a press conference. “And this is especially vital to those who might not understand how the court works or how tools are available to ensure that all have knowledge to effectively interact with the court.”
The kiosks were part of a proposal from the Indiana Bar Foundation that was funded by a $13.1 million grant from the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority.
Because the grant money comes from COVID funding made available to keep individuals and families in their homes during the pandemic, the bar foundation’s kiosks will be required to focus solely on housing issues. The kiosks will initially provide information and help for matters like evictions and foreclosures for renters, landlords and homeowners.
However, the bar foundation plans to expand the kiosks’s offerings to include all civil legal matters.
“But it’s our goal to not have this be a one-off situation,” Charles Dunlap, IBF president and CEO, said. “Our goal is to build this network so it’d be long-term and enduring into the future where people need civil legal assistance for any number of reasons.”
Following the remarks to a small crowd in the Lawrence Township courtroom, the officials walked down the hall to the room near the court staff. The kiosk stood in the corner, covered by a gray cloth.
Bacon and Dunlap stood on each side of the veiled device and lifted the covering to reveal the standalone unit with “Indiana Legal Help” written in gold and blue across the top. The kiosk contains a large screen with a keyboard below and a tray for printing and scanning documents.
The crowd gathered for the event applauded when the kiosk was unveiled and watched attentively as the device was demonstrated.
Users just have to touch the screen, then enter their ZIP code or county. From there, they will be presented with a list of resources available in their community to help with housing problems as well as information on the court system, self-help forms and a connection to civil legal aid.
The kiosks access the website IndianaLegalHelp.org, which is a bar foundation program that connects Hoosiers to legal resources and services.
Judge Robert Altice of the Court of Appeals of Indiana and chair of the Indiana Eviction Task Force said the kiosks will help all aspects of the court process.
“… So many people walk into these very courtrooms without legal assistance and they’re completely lost. This will be a nice, useful tool to help them navigate the system,” Altice said. “… For the judge, the courts, staff, having more informed and prepared litigants often means a much more efficient criminal justice, civil justice and justice system as a whole.”
The kiosks will be placed in public locations like courthouses and libraries across Indiana.
The project marks first time the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority has partnered with the bar foundation. Jacob Sipe, IHCDA executive director, credited Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch with connecting the two organizations by challenging his group to think creatively and develop new partnerships.
“The kiosk we are here to see today represents one year of hard work and effort by and between the Indiana Bar Foundation and IHCDA and many other players, as well,” Sipe said. “… IHCDA, and specifically me, as well, I’m just so proud of the partnerships that we have today.”