RI County launches legal self-help website

2010-09-29T21:44:00Z 2010-09-30T12:11:35Z RI County launches legal self-help websiteDustin Lemmon The Quad-City Times
September 29, 2010 9:44 pm  • 

A new website from the Rock Island County Circuit Court is being used to help residents with legal questions and to guide them through the filing process in civil court.

The site, rockisland.illinoislegalaid.org, can answer questions about filing for divorce, changing child support payments, filling out a protection order and filing a lawsuit of $10,000 or less.

Rock Island County Circuit Clerk Lisa Bierman said the site is the first of its kind in the Illinois Quad-City area, but other nearby counties are expected to add the service as well. She said it was designed on a fifth-grade user’s level.

The site does not allow residents to file paperwork and civil complaints online but does give them directions and the ability to print off paperwork, which they can fill out and take to the clerk’s office, Bierman said.

“It’s absolutely not a replacement for an attorney,” she said.

However, the site can help those who might not be able to afford legal representation or who need to file something immediately.

“With high unemployment, we are seeing a steady increase in the number of individuals who are forced to come to court without an attorney because they do not have the money to hire one,” Jeffrey O’Connor, chief judge of the 14th Judicial Circuit said in a news release. “We know that people are better off in court with a skilled attorney. The reality is, however, that many people cannot pay an attorney to handle their case nor can they find a legal aid attorney to help them.”

The site will not address criminal matters, Bierman said.

For those without Internet access, the site can be accessed at the courthouse and area libraries. Bierman said some local librarians were at the courthouse Tuesday to receive training on how to help users navigate the site. They, and the circuit clerk’s staff, are not trained to provide legal advice, she said.

For now, there is one public access terminal inside the third-floor circuit clerk’s office at the courthouse, but two to three more public terminals will be placed on the courthouse rotunda in coming weeks, Bierman said.

Another terminal will likely be placed by the domestic violence advocate’s office because the service will be helpful to those seeking a protection order, Bierman said. The site simplifies the filing process by asking the user several questions and then placing the answers inside the forms, she said.

“We’ll be able to get them through here so they’re not waiting real long,” Bierman said. “It’s going to answer questions that we (in the clerk’s office) can’t. We’re not attorneys.”

The website is the 49th of its kind to launch in Illinois since 2007. It is paid for with a grant from the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation, which came through Prairie State Legal Services.

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