The Municipal Court Advice Desk
One of the most impactful programs donors to the Investing in Justice Campaign are making possible is the Municipal Court Advice Desk in the Circuit Court of Cook County. The Municipal Desk operates on an annual budget of approximately $300,000, half of which comes from Investing in Justice Campaign donors and the other half of which is matched by Cook County through a contract with the CBF that was just renewed by the County Board for three more years.
The Municipal Desk was launched in March, 2008 as a partnership of the CBF, CARPLS, the Chicago Legal Clinic, and the Circuit Court, and provides free legal assistance to low-income individuals with cases pending in the Municipal Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County. In a division that sees a substantial number of unrepresented litigants, the Municipal Desk simplifies the inner workings of the court for the everyday citizen.
CARPLS attorneys provide legal advice, help with the preparation of court documents, offer guidance on motions and assist with settlement negotiations in cases that include evictions, consumer debt collection, small claims and tort matters where less than $50,000 is at stake. For cases that merit extended legal representation, CARPLS refers clients to the Chicago Legal Clinic for further assistance. CARPLS also refers appropriate cases where a jury demand has been filed to the CBA’s Municipal Court Pro Bono Program, through which pro bono attorneys from a number of Chicago law firms provide representation all the way through trial if necessary.
The Desk provides over 7,000 individual consultations and services to about 5,500 people annually. Approximately 150 cases each year are referred to Chicago Legal Clinic for extended representation, along with dozens more cases through the Pro Bono Program.
The Desk recently moved from the sixth floor of the Daley Center to the Resource Center on the Concourse level in April, a location that will better serve the more than 5,000 clients who visit the Desk annually. “We are very pleased with the results of the move,” said Cathy Schneider, a senior staff attorney at CARPLS. “Previously, clients would visit our desk in the sometimes noisy and chaotic atmosphere of the clerk’s public filing offices on the 6th floor.
The ability for CARPLS to refer meritorious cases for extended representation to the Chicago Legal Clinic or the Municipal Court Pro Bono Program allows clients to get the appropriate level of legal assistance necessary to reach a fair and efficient resolution of their cases. This seamless continuum of services, and the significant funding and pro bono services Campaign donors leverage through the CBF, make the Municipal Desk program an innovative model for providing legal assistance to low-income individuals in the courts.