When in crisis mode, the last thing Broward County citizens want to worry about is reading legalese and rushing from department to department to make sure their court cases are filed correctly.
That’s why Broward Circuit Court created a service to help.
The circuit’s new center for pro se litigants had its grand opening friday. Its user-friendly approach will ensure self-represented individuals learn about options for legal aid and other social services.
“Not knowing where to turn for help is no longer an issue,” said Broward Circuit spokeswoman Meredith Bush.
The center will cover five different legal and social issues.
Coast to Coast Legal Aid will provide assistance with family matters, including referrals and assistance with domestic violence injunctions, while Broward 211 will identify those in need of housing and other social services. A third agency, the South Florida Wellness Network, offers peer-run programs aimed at helping individuals and families struggling with substance abuse. For courthouse users tackling behavioral and mental health issues, Henderson Behavioral Health might help. Also on hand: Women in Distress, an organization that directs victims of domestic violence to legal assistance, assistance programs and relocation services.
Program representatives will be stationed on the fourth and fifth floors of the courthouse every weekday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“It should be a great use for folks who can’t afford a lawyer and can’t afford transportation,” said Broward Chief Judge Jack Tuter.
Many of these initiatives resemble previous court administration programs axed in 2004 after statewide budget cuts.
“Now that we have these services back on site, it makes the interaction between the agencies and the public more personal,” Bush said. “If one agency cannot help with a certain situation, there’s a good chance one of the other four can.”
The brains behind the program was Lynn Allen, director of case management at the Broward County Courthouse.
“This was a project of hers long before I became a judge,” Tuter said, who estimates it’s been in the works for 20 years. Due to a variety of factors, lack of space in particular, the initiative’s launch wasn’t possible until now.