The United Way of Indian River County (UW) and the John’s Island Community Service League (JICSL) have launched an innovative collaboration with our Clerk of Court, court administration, county government, and local attorneys to address the need for supportive legal services in Indian River County. This transformative initiative, aptly named Access to Justice, aims to bridge the gap in the region’s access to legal resources and assistance.
Community outreach supporting eviction mediation efforts during COVID exposed “deserts” around access to legal information and assistance. Conversations with our residents, members of the legal community, and the local judiciary further confirmed the need for additional supportive legal services covering a broad array of issues.
Since then, UW and JICSL, through the Access to Justice Initiative, have explored models to address identified needs. Developing robust legal Self Help Centers to meet the needs of self-represented litigants in the court system was the optimal place to start.
Referencing best practice models from around the state, Circuit Judge Cynthia Cox captures the importance and potential of this project: “Most of our sister courts have developed self-help centers and have seen measurable improvements in filing of the correct and adequate forms, shortening the time from case initiation to final hearing, and resulting in an improved process for self-represented litigants to pursue appropriate and available relief.”
The Jeffrey R. Smith Access to Justice Self Help Center at the courthouse and a second site at United Against Poverty are now open to the community. The Self Help Centers will assist self-represented litigants with cases involving residential landlord/tenant disputes, small claims, and family law (including, but not limited to, alimony, child custody/visitation, child support, divorce, name change, and paternity).
The services offered at the Self Help Centers will help alleviate the need for “deeper-end” legal assistance while increasing judicial efficiency and facilitating legal literacy around some of our community’s most prevailing legal issues.
As illuminated by IRC Clerk of Court Ryan L. Butler, “With over 80% of the parties in family and small claims cases representing themselves, there has never been a greater need for free and low-cost legal services. Helping people navigate our complex legal system will streamline the issues for our judges and result in a faster resolution of cases. We are deeply grateful to the United Way and the John’s Island Community Service League for supporting and funding this endeavor.”
The Self Help Centers are uniquely designed to facilitate access to the legal system for self-represented litigants through technology and in-person assistance. Thanks to support from the Johns Island Foundation, easy-to-use, confidential legal kiosks will allow customers to find, complete, and submit forms and documents, schedule low-cost attorney consultations by Zoom, and appear remotely for hearings and other mandated appearances. Knowledgeable staff will help clients navigate legal procedures, locate relevant legal forms, and facilitate their proper completion. Together, these functionalities can create a more effective continuum of care for those in our community not represented by an attorney.
Self Help Centers are now open at the Indian River County Courthouse and United Against Poverty (UP). Once these first two centers are well established, the goal is to replicate the legal kiosks and create access points throughout the County to benefit those communities far from the courthouse most impacted by the digital divide.
Self Help Center Hours:
Monday, Wednesday, Friday 8:30 am-4:30 pm
Indian River County Courthouse, 2000 16th Avenue, Vero Beach, Florida 32960
Tuesday, Thursday, 9:00 am-5:00 pm
United Against Poverty, 1400 27th Street, Vero Beach, FL 32960
The launch of the Access to Justice Self Help Centers at the IRC Courthouse and United Against Poverty is the first step toward the overall mission to increase access to justice throughout Indian River County in a manner that creates connections to community resources, restores wholeness, and inspires public trust.
For media inquiries and more information, please contact Meredith Egan at (772) 567-8900 or [email protected].