UPPER MARLBORO – Those looking for legal assistance now have another option right at the Prince George’s County District Courthouse—and at no cost. The Maryland Judiciary and members of the Prince George’s County community gathered on Wednesday, June 17, at the District Court Self-Help Resource Center to celebrate the opening of a second free walk-in […]
UPPER MARLBORO – Those looking for legal assistance now have another option right at the Prince George’s County District Courthouse—and at no cost.
The Maryland Judiciary and members of the Prince George’s County community gathered on Wednesday, June 17, at the District Court Self-Help Resource Center to celebrate the opening of a second free walk-in legal clinic for people who need help with civil cases in the district court.
The center will help prepare documents for cases more efficiently and directly, said District Court of Maryland Chief Judge John P. Morrissey. In a majority of cases, people represent themselves because they cannot afford an attorney.
“We are open for business and going strong, but this ribbon-cutting is important because it celebrates a much-needed community resource,” said District Court of Maryland Chief Judge John P. Morrissey.
The first center, located in Glen Burnie, opened in December 2009 and its services have since expanded to include online and telephone support. In 2014, the center’s attorneys assisted 23,632 people with civil legal matters.
Officials picked Upper Marlboro as the location for the new center because of its central location, which will allow it to provide access for county residents as well as those from neighboring jurisdictions.
“A quarter of the cases we’ve dealt with while at the Glen Burnie location were Prince George’s County residents, so the decision to move to Upper Marlboro was a win-win for everyone,” Morrissey said.
Functioning as a walk-in center, the new center is staffed by three attorneys from Maryland Legal Aid.
“Our mission is to make sure that every citizen has access to justice,” said Mary Ellen Barbera, chief judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals.
Originally, officials planned to open the new self-help center in February but a pipe burst incident occurred on the ground floor. Luckily, Morrissey said, the incident did not cause any damage to the facility.
Since April, the center has helped people with civil matters involving landlord-tenant affairs, small and large claims up to $30,000, debt collection, return of property, and peace and protective orders in the county.
The new legal center has assisted approximately 2,000 people, 18,000 both online and by telephone.
In the future, the judiciary hopes to open up another self-help legal center on the Eastern Shore.
“We are also evaluating other technology to allow access to forms that can be filled out by potential clients ahead of time, such as complaint forms,” said Morrissey.
In addition to pro-bono cases, the legal center will help residents in neighboring cities with child custody, adoption and divorce cases.
During the last year, resources to help the poor have been cut nearly in half and family assistance sources are shrinking, said Wilhelm Joseph, executive director of Maryland Legal Aid. He hopes the new center will help provide clients, such as a mother of two children who makes $13,000 a year, with easy access to legal help when they need it.
“There are approximately 600,000 people who have similar situations to this type of client,” Joseph said, referencing the mother he talked about, “and those people are denied help.”