Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Clay Goal Is Access to Civil Justice; Portal for Those Who Can't Afford Attorney, but Don't Qualify for Legal Aid

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Clay Goal Is Access to Civil Justice; Portal for Those Who Can't Afford Attorney, but Don't Qualify for Legal Aid

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrew Pantazi

The centerpiece of a two-year-long commission on access to civil justice for the poor and middle class will launch this fall in Clay County: a one-stop portal to connect legal help to those in need of legal services.

The Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice held its penultimate meeting in Jacksonville on Friday and presented a draft of its final report with recommendations, including the creation of a portal website. This website, which the group envisions to be similar to how TurboTax helps people file their own taxes, would guide people through a series of questions to see what help they need.

The poor could be connected to local nonprofit legal aid firms. The working class could be directed to lawyers who would charge reduced rates. Anyone - wealthy, poor and in between - might be given more information so they can file paperwork themselves, and others might just be directed to a simple lawyer referral service.

For years, legal aid in Florida has been at a crisis. In 2008, the Florida Bar Foundation gave $29 million to legal aid. By 2014, legal aid was getting just $12 million. That meant fewer attorneys helping fewer poor people navigate the legal system.

The Jacksonville Area Legal Aid has to mandate furlough days to keep its costs down. Though the organization receives funding from Clay, Nassau and St. Johns counties, Jacksonville doesn't give the nonprofit law firm any additional funding beyond what comes from court fees.

In criminal cases, defendants are guaranteed the right to an attorney. In civil cases, like foreclosures, lawsuits and custody battles, plaintiffs and defendants are not guaranteed attorneys. That is where the commission comes in.

Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga started the commission with an administrative order in 2014. …

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