Low-cost legal counsel offered

A program designed to provide legal services for those who cannot afford private attorney fees began yesterday at the Kaua‘i Courthouse, according to a written statement from the 5th Circuit Court.

The Courthouse Assistance Program, a joint effort between the judiciary and the Legal Aid Society of Hawai‘i, will provide free or low-cost counsel for cases involving restraining orders, divorce, small claims, and other civil matters filed in Family or District Court.

“The number of litigants appearing in court without an attorney continues to grow,” 5th Circuit Chief Judge Randal Valenciano said in the statement. “They need more help than judges and court staff can and are allowed to provide.

“The Courthouse Assistance Project will benefit the many who cannot afford an attorney, as well as judges and court staff. I am pleased that the Legal Aid Society of Hawai‘i and the Judiciary is providing this much-needed service,” he said.

The Legal Aid Society of Hawai‘i, a state-wide non-profit agency funded by grants and donations, has been offering similar services since it was founded in 1950.

“The difference is now we’ll be in the courthouse. It’s a matter of access,” said staff attorney Linda Vass. “When people get into court and find out how difficult it is to represent themselves, they will be able to come to us.”

An attorney will be at the first-floor courthouse office on Mondays between 8:30 a.m. and 12 p.m., Tuesdays between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. and Wednesdays between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m.

Vass said that a similar program has been in use in Honolulu’s First Circuit Court and that the Kaua‘i office was trying to “use them as a framework.”

Services for income-eligible criminal or traffic defendants will not be included in the new program, but will still be provided through the public defender’s office.

Those interested in applying should contact the Legal Aid Society of Hawai‘i at 245-4728.

• Michael Levine, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or via e-mail at mlevine@kauaipubco.com

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