One of the top priorities for Florida Supreme Court Justice George Labarga moved a step closer to reality Monday when the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice released a preliminary report.
The commission is charged with helping thousands of Floridians forced to navigate the legal system without an attorney.
Nobody knows how many people can’t afford an attorney in Florida. But according to the report, 1,600 people represent themselves each month in the Fourth Judicial Circuit, which includes Jacksonville.
And there are 20 circuits in Florida.
Kathy Grunewald, an ad hoc member of the commission, says legal aid societies only scratch surface when it comes to meeting the need.
“Domestic violence is an urgent matter. But landlord tenant evictions is also an urgent matter. We’re also seeing a lot of foreclosures in Florida. There are a lot of consumer problems, debt collection problems in Florida.”
The report is only preliminary. But its suggestions include allowing law professors and retired judges to offer legal help. Or using money that goes unclaimed from class action suits to pay for free legal help.
Joyce Rayby, executive director of the Florida Justice Technology Center, says there already are websites that refer people to legal aid or help them request documents. But Raby pictures a “turbo tax” approach where users answer basic questions and the site tailors advice.
“Create a system that would be seamless to the user so that we could help them identify the nature and the severity of their legal problem and then get them to the best next step for them.”
The final report is due next year.