ABILENE, Texas (KRBC)-With many people in Taylor County below the poverty line unable to afford civil legal services, a local organization is looking to expand its free legal services to expedite cases and alleviate confusion.
Through a two-year grant, the Legal Aid of Northwest Texas is planning to open an additional office in or near the Taylor County Courthouse. This office will be administered by an additional attorney and a receptionist to handle “brief services” including assisting clients to complete legal documents and providing general civil legal advice.
Every day at the Taylor Co. Courthouse, district clerk Tammy Robinson and her staff encounter someone who is searching for legal advice. But, her staff is unable to provide any kind of legal advice.
“I will tell you probably the hardest part is sometimes these people have the saddest stories and your heart goes out to them and you seriously want to help them,” said Robinson. “We’d love to help these people out but without a law degree we can’t really help them, and that’s against the law.”
Most facing civil cases pro se litigation are sent to the Taylor County Law Library, where they can research state and U.S. law and comb through manuals to correctly complete legal documents. And although this is considered a quality resource for those involved in these cases, officials say often times there are still procedural or document issues that lead to many people to “start over”, unable to finish their cases.
For decades, Legal Aid of Northwest Texas has been filling that gap providing free legal advice in a wide range of civil cases to those below the poverty line, Gary Orren has practiced law for the organization for 23 years.
“Our motto is helping people to gain access to justice, Texas’ access to justice,” said Orren. “We’re very excited to be able do move those dockets, to be able to move provide some brief services, so people can go finish their cases,” said Orren. “It’s [being met with] universal acceptance. Everybody thinks this will help people.”
Legal Aid approached the Taylor County Commissioners to request additional office space in or near the courthouse. Judge Downing Bolls said the county is working to find the perfect spot for the office.
“We think we’ve identified an area in the plaza building that might be able to be used for that purpose,” said Bolls. “It’s going to require a little construction to go in there. We’re going to have to put a wall up and try to subdivide one room into two rooms. But, we think we can do that inexpensively and make that happen.”