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Monday, September 21, 2009

Ind. Courts - "County library could be endangered legal resource"

Francesca Jarosz of the Indianapolis Star has this lengthy, and important, story today that begins.

Scott Vaughn hovered near a table covered with two thick law books and a binder full of court filing forms. He was trying to find the paperwork to start child custody proceedings. His deadline to file was approaching.

Next to him, librarian Zoya Golban flipped through the books to locate a reference that helped her find the proper form. She explained to Vaughn that he was a petitioner and pulled the paperwork to copy.

Similar interactions play out dozens of times a day at the Marion County Law Library. Located on the third floor of the City-County Building, it is one of the few places where litigants who represent themselves in civil court -- because they can't afford a lawyer -- can find guidance navigating the complex court system.

But it's a public service that may soon go away. Budget cuts could close the law library by the end of this year.

Court administrators say they've pared their costs so much that keeping the library open would force other court staff reductions or program cuts. The City-County Council is scheduled to vote on the city budget tonight.

It would cost $280,800 next year to run the library, which is smaller than many elementary school libraries and is manned mostly by Golban, who tracked more than 8,000 library users last year.

That estimate is low, she figures, because sometimes she gets so busy assisting people she fails to count how many come through. Although she can't dispense legal advice, Golban fields questions about filing paperwork, points out books that can be used as legal references and guides people through online resources.

Proponents of closing the library say its service is becoming less relevant in an Internet age and when access to other libraries is available.

However, to visitors such as Indianapolis resident Travis Bailey, who used the library last week, the implications of eliminating the service are clear.

"You cut something like that," he said, "and it's going to screw the little guy." * * *

Even with more online access, though, court processes are complicated, particularly for some of the self-represented (also called pro se) litigants. Court systems across the country are recognizing that having a guide such as Golban is crucial.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 21, 2009 09:13 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts