- Associated Press - Monday, January 5, 2015

WAUKEGAN, Ill. (AP) - Navigating judicial red tape is no easy task.

Knowing what forms to file, where to file them, and who to ask for general information can be perplexing for many people wading through the legal system.

Judges aren’t able to help with legal advice, lawyers are expensive, and missing one simple form or step can sometimes lead to major problems.

That intimidation and confusion is what led Lake County judicial leaders to implement the Illinois JusticeCorps program at the Waukegan courthouse.

Anna Aguilar, the full-time “fellow” for JusticeCorps, said the role of the program is to help people understand legal and procedural issues and navigate the miles of red tape.

“Most of the questions we receive are from people looking for their courtroom or trying to understand how to fill out and file forms,” Aguilar said. “I think it’s going really well. People seem very thankful that we are here.”

Dressed in blue shirts bearing the JusticeCorps logo, the group’s one full-time employee and four part-time student volunteers can be found at various times at one of the two main entrances, or in the William D. Block Memorial Law Library answering questions.

They are available to escort people to courtrooms and other court-related facilities, but also assist people who represent themselves in court to gain access to legal information and complete basic court forms.

“A courthouse is an intimidating place,” Lake County Chief Judge John Phillips said. “Our hope is that these volunteers with their blue shirts and friendly faces help our citizens feel more comfortable moving around the court complex and better able to present their matters to the judge.”

JusticeCorps members are not able to provide legal advice, but they can answer general and procedural questions, connect patrons with web-based resources, and make referrals to legal aid and social services.

Aguilar is a law school graduate who began working for JusticeCorps in October. Since the program started that month, it has helped about 300 people, she estimated.

“I like it,” she said. “The reason I went into law school was to help out people. This is perfect for that.”

Aguilar said JusticeCorps training included learning the various publications, the difference between offering legal advice and explaining legal procedures, and how to get people to relax.

“Sometimes we see people overstressed or with some hostility because of the process,” she said “But, we revert to our training, calm them down, then help them through the process.”

Lake County Circuit Court Clerk Keith Brin said clerks in his office are prohibited from helping people navigate the judicial system, which often results in clerks being in a tough spot.

Now, he said, he is able to direct patrons to JusticeCorps.

“For the circuit clerk’s office, cases can be adjudicated on their merits, as opposed to having to be rejected or refiled based on procedural deficiencies,” Brin said.

“The direct benefit to us is that it ultimately creates a more seamless and expedient process when people come to the counter with paper work that is completed.”

JusticeCorps was launched by the Chicago Bar Foundation as a test project in Cook County courts in Chicago in 2009. After that successful launch, the Illinois JusticeCorps program was expanded to Bloomington in 2012.

From September 2013 to March 2014, JusticeCorps members provided assistance more than 11,000 times to visitors at three Illinois courts, not including volunteer assistance at the newly-opened Circuit Court of Cook County Self-Help Resource Center.

It was expanded again this year to seven other courthouses — including Lake County. Additional funding came from the Serve Illinois Commission, the Chicago Bar Foundation, and the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice.

The Illinois Bar Foundation will administer the expansion into Lake County, Rockford, Kankakee, Champaign, Galesburg, Macomb and Edwardsville.

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Source: (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald, https://bit.ly/1GoN7nk

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Information from: Daily Herald, https://www.dailyherald.com

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