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The Justice Center's volunteer lawyers work to narrow the access-to-justice gap 

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click to enlarge Sometimes, just talking paperwork with a lawyer helps. - COURTESY JUSTICE CENTER
  • Courtesy Justice Center
  • Sometimes, just talking paperwork with a lawyer helps.

The United States' legal system doesn't always work. Having a good lawyer helps, but legal help doesn't come cheap. It's all too easy for minor legal issues to blow up, all for want of cash.

"The colloquial phrase that's tossed around a lot is the 'access-to-justice gap,'" says Charles Simon. He's the executive director for the Pikes Peak Justice and Pro Bono Center, which does business as The Justice Center. With the help of a roster of lawyers who volunteer their time and expertise, they help give people a better chance at an equitable day in court.

The Justice Center, a first-time Give! participant, formed in 2004 as an informal collaboration between local legal groups, including the El Paso County Bar Association. In 2016, they merged with the Pikes Peak Pro Bono Project, which provided the same services. But now the organization faces a name recognition issue.

"Unless [people] attend one of our legal clinics or apply to one of our programs, they haven't heard of us," says Simon. That means all manner of people who could use legal advice go without.

Much of their work happens outside the courtroom, often having to do with legal paperwork — things like contracts, motions and orders. "Oftentimes, judges want to see things [presented] in a specific way," he says. "A lawyer can help you craft a motion or an order so that a judge will approve it."

Most people the organization helps access their free legal clinics. They offer three clinics every month — one by phone, and two in person — for locals to get one-on-one, anonymous, confidential legal advice. Further, they offer a monthly by-appointment clinic for family law and probate issues.

They also organize one-off, single-topic events, such as Family Law Day, an event they've held twice now in collaboration with the 4th Judicial District (El Paso and Teller counties), the Access to Justice Committee for the 4th Judicial District, the Family Law Section of the El Paso County Bar Association, and Colorado Legal Services. These events range from consultations to information sessions.

"We actually held one [recently] at the El Paso County Courthouse," Simon says. "We had over 100 people who came in just to speak with a lawyer and get advice for the day, just between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m."

While The Justice Center will connect people with attorneys for in-court representation, that's not always necessary.

"Colorado has public defenders," he says, "so people who are charged with crimes can get legal representation for those offenses [at no cost] if they're going to go to prison or if they're facing serious charges." But there's an income threshold for eligibility, and it's low — 200 percent of the federal poverty line, Simon says. If someone makes more than that, they may still be unable to afford representation, and according to Simon, lawyers in the Springs charge, on average, around $250 an hour. For people who fall into that access gap, The Justice Center's modest means program helps applicants find attorneys willing to work at a reduced rate.

The center offers pro bono and modest means programs for civil cases, too — the state doesn't have a public defender-like system for civil cases.

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