Colo. Judicial Branch expands ‘Self Help Center’ program to Grand Junction
The Self Help Center is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The center is located in the court clerk’s office of the Mesa County Justice Center, 125 N. Spruce, and can be reached by emailing 21SelfHelp@judicial.stae.co.us or by calling 970-257-8764.
For people choosing to represent themselves in non-criminal court proceedings, the 21st Judicial District is offering free assistance at its Self Help Center at the Mesa County Justice Center, 125 N. Spruce.
“We get to meet with people one-on-one,” Self-represented Litigant Coordinator Velvet Johnson said. “By meeting with me, we can verify they have everything needed before they meet with the judge.”
Grand Junction became Colorado’s 13th Self Help Center after the state sought to expand the centers to other districts.
“There’s been a heavy growth in the number of people representing themselves in civil matters,” Colorado Judicial Branch spokesman Jon Sarché said.
For example, approximately 75 percent of people involved in divorce cases in Colorado choose not to hire an attorney, according to a Colorado Judicial Branch news release.
“For many years, we offered self-help resources on our website,” Sarché said. “Starting about a year and a half ago we put together these centers and self-help coordinator positions.”
While self-help coordinators like Johnson cannot provide legal advice, they can help clients with locating the right paperwork and understanding the questions asked. Clients learn what to expect at a hearing and what they need to bring.
Currently, there are three main areas where the center provides assistance: eviction cases, small claims under $7,500, and protection orders.
Whether it’s a new landlord who has never evicted someone before or a tenant who believes he or she was wrongly evicted, the Self Help Center is there to help.
“Sometimes, we get a tenant that says they shouldn’t be evicted and here’s why… we help them file an answer,” Johnson said.
In another case, a property owner was helped when both parties were educated about new rules governing home evictions.
“We try and treat everybody with respect and understanding, and help them through the process,” Johnson said.
Small claims cases tend to be neighbor disputes or a problem with a contractor with whom the client believes did a poor job, Johnson said.
In Mesa County, people with small claims cases are required to first attend a mediation session to try and resolve the issue.
Clients seeking protection orders at the center receive priority — paperwork is filed as soon as possible and given to a judge for a decision whether to grant a restraining order or not.
The center also refers clients to other agencies when appropriate, such as Latimer House, a family court facilitator, the Pro Bono Project and Colorado Legal Services.
“In Mesa County we’re lucky for how much collaboration we have,” Johnson said.
Johnson created five-minute videos with information for different case types that clients first listen to when they come to the center. There are brochures on a number of court-related topics, plus a bulletin board posting various upcoming clinics.
People with criminal cases who cannot afford an attorney can turn to public defenders for free legal assistance.
In civil matters, however, “there is a huge pool of people who can’t afford an attorney and who need just a little bit of guidance,” Johnson said. “That’s who we hope to help at the center.
“I know firsthand how overwhelming the court system can be to someone unfamiliar with the rules of procedure and unable to hire an attorney,” Johnson said in a news release. “My hope is that we can offer as much assistance as possible to enable litigants to navigate the court system successfully.”
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