Lawyers, judges and public service agencies gathered Friday morning in the Floyd County Administration Building to discuss views on improving access to the civil justice system.
The talk, with 68 attendees, was part of an ongoing initiative sponsored by the Supreme Court of Georgia’s Committee on Civil Justice.
“Information and knowledge are the things that our clients don’t get,” said Karen Geiger, managing attorney of the Georgia Legal Services Program — a group that provides legal services to low-income Georgians.
Because of financial issues, many of Georgia’s low- and moderate-income residents attempt to resolve civil matters — which are different from criminal charges — by representing themselves rather than hiring an attorney, a recent study showed.
But courts get tied up when those litigants don’t know the everyday processes; and procedural rules can’t be waived for those without legal representation, said Matthews, chief judge of the Rome Judicial Circuit. “When a case arrives in the courtroom the same rules apply, and the same laws must apply,” Matthews said.
One way to address the issue is to educate those representing themselves in the courtroom.
Another is for lawyers to help by assisting litigants without formal legal representation in portions of their case, Georgia Bar Pro Bono Director Michael Monahan said. This can help the case move through the process more quickly and efficiently.
Language barriers and education are among the other major impediments to court access for Georgians.