Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011 | 2 a.m.
In December 2009, the Civil Law Self-Help Center opened in the lobby of the Regional Justice Center to help people try to navigate the court system, and it found its services in demand. From its opening through June of this year, the center has worked with 55,000 people.
As Steve Kanigher reported in Wednesday’s Las Vegas Sun, the center has helped smooth the way for people facing a variety of matters in court, including landlord-tenant disputes and foreclosure mediations.
The center, which is funded by Clark County and the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, offers its services for free. It typically serves people who either don’t need attorneys, such as those in small-claims cases, or who can’t afford one. An attorney and a staff of paralegals at the center don’t offer legal advice, but they can teach people how to represent themselves and explain what forms they need to fill out. They will also refer people to attorneys who work for free or will bill based on a client’s ability to pay.
The center also regularly offers people short appointments with attorneys to deal with landlord-tenant issues and foreclosures.
By trying to cut through the confusion of the legal process, the center is providing an important service — as anyone who has ever dealt with the courts knows. And many Nevadans have had to deal with legal issues since the collapse of the housing market. The state is at the epicenter of the foreclosure crisis, and many homeowners are trying to figure out how to deal with lenders and defaults when they can’t afford an attorney.
The center has helped guide people who are going to the Nevada Supreme Court’s foreclosure mediation program. Adam Tully, a staff assistant who deals with homeowners facing foreclosure, said people are frustrated trying to deal with their mortgage lenders. Some people complain that lenders mess things up out of “willful ignorance.”
“What surprised me is how many people have been at it for so long, working on modifications for months, years,” Tully said. “By the time they come in for mediation, many times they’re resigned about it. They know it’s a pain.”
Property disputes are a main focus of the center. As Kanigher reported, more than 40 percent of those who seek help are dealing with landlord-tenant disputes, and mortgage mediations are the issue for 5 percent of the people. People with small claims and consumer debt cases account for nearly 20 percent of the center’s cases.
District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez, the presiding civil judge, said people representing themselves typically don’t know what to expect. With the center’s help, people have a better chance of being ready so a judge “can make intelligent decisions,” Gonzalez said.
The center has shown its benefit in its short lifetime. It demystifies the legal system and helps people get their cases resolved. The center has been a great — and welcome — addition to the courthouse.