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Articles, Peer Review

Using Idaho’s Court Assistance Publications to Enhance Public Library Service

by Ruth Patterson Funabiki

Introduction

Idaho’s public libraries are often the first stop for legal information seekers.  Over thirty years ago, Leone (1980) noted the increasing numbers of self-representing or pro se litigants performing research in public law libraries and addressed malpractice liability concerns for law librarians serving those patrons.  Although librarians have continued discussions about the ethical and professional aspects of answering reference questions concerning legal matters, Harrell (2008) suggests that law librarians, at least, can be proactive in making necessary adjustments in their collections and services.

Although librarian liability may not be a huge threat, the role of a librarian in responding to a patron is limited by ethical and professional constraints (Condon, 2001; Dugan, 2001).  Librarians may not ethically offer legal advice.  However, as Healey (2008) points out, “… there are no clear standards with which to determine what constitutes legal advice.”  Healey goes on to provide a short list of activities that most law librarians try to avoid:  “Interpreting any term, statute, or case; suggesting search terms or topics; advising users about what kind of law to look for; selecting, discussing, or assisting with any forms; agreeing or disagreeing with any legal opinion or argument made by a user (Healey, 2008).

Fortunately, many libraries have been able to link to online services and acquire published resources to meet patron needs without asking reference librarians to practice law without a license.  Law Librarians have addressed the need both with recommendations for library websites (Sims, 2004) and bibliographies such as the Guide to free online legal and legislative resources (Cramer, 2002).  The demand for self-help legal materials also resulted in Nolo Press, Sphinx Publishing, and other similar publishers creating numerous legal how-to popular press books.   Many of those publications are extremely well-written by attorneys who are experts in the applicable field.  Unfortunately, few mass market books address Idaho law.

Idaho’s Court Assistance Program

The needs of self-represented litigants are an even larger problem for the courts.   According to the Court Assistance Office (CAO) Project website, some counties in Idaho are currently reporting that eighty percent or more civil cases–especially family law cases–involve self-representation (Court Assistance Office, 2012).   By the end of the last century, state courts throughout the country began to address the problems posed by shrinking budgets and increasing numbers of pro se litigants.  In 1999, the Idaho Supreme Court joined that movement, creating the Courthouse Assistance Office as a pilot project.  The Office took on the responsibility of assisting court clerks with responding to the legal procedural needs of self-representing citizens who were attempting to navigate in Idaho’s state court system.  The Office places staff in every judicial district, and it maintains kiosks with over sixty brochures in county courthouses and in public law libraries.  Since 2001, the Office has been funded by the Idaho Legislature.

Court Assistance Online Resources

More recently, the Office created a website.  The website is intended to provide “tools and information for people who want to represent themselves in court, or who are unable to afford an attorney and would otherwise be unable to get their day in court” (Court Assistance Office, 2012).  The website offers an assortment of resources, including forms, publications, an attorney search page and legal services directory.

            Idaho’s Court Assistance web page is located at http://www.courtselfhelp.idaho.gov/

Two of the tabs on the CAO page are of particular interest to librarians.  Many library patrons are simply seeking the legal forms that are appropriate to their needs.  Lists of linked forms are found under the “Forms” tab.  In addition, over seventy brochures and booklets are listed under the “Publications” tab.   Clicking on the individual titles links the user with PDF copies of the same brochures provided in courthouse kiosks.Many of the Court Assistance publications are remarkably clear, helpful, documents that Idaho citizens can use to address their legal questions.  For example, the titles include: Divorce, Property and Debts: Things You Need to Know; Landlord & Tenant’s Rights and Responsibilities; So You Want to Bond Someone Out of Jail; and Bankruptcy Basics.  Publications not authored by Court staff have been prepared by reliable sources such as Idaho Legal Aid or the Idaho Trial Lawyers Association.  A number of the pamphlets are available in Spanish as well.

Creating Catalog Records to Improve Access

The Court Assistance publications could be extremely useful to Idaho’s public library patrons.  However, even though the Court Assistance publications are readily available in county courthouses and public law libraries, they have not been promoted to public or academic libraries.  Because the publications are online in PDF form, they are available to anyone who has Internet access.

In an effort to promote the publications, a librarian at the University of Idaho created OCLC catalog records for all of the Court Assistance PDF publications.  By downloading the catalog records, a public library can add the entire collection of Court Assistance publications as e-resources.  A list of the publications and their associated OCLC record numbers is appended to this article.

Conclusion

Idaho’s Court Assistance Office is a valuable resource for assisting self-representing litigants in Idaho’s state courts.  Public libraries can perform a valuable public service by making these resources available in libraries as well.  Attaching holdings to the new OCLC catalog records and incorporating the Office’s publications in library catalogs will bring these well-written and reliable resources to the attention of public library patrons.

Ruth Patterson Funabiki, Law Library, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho

References

Condon, C. J. (2001). How to avoid the unauthorized practice of law at the reference desk. Legal Reference Services Quarterly, 19(1), 165-179.

Cramer, J. (2002). Reference Services Review, 30(2), 150-159.

Duggan, J. E. (2001). Patrons and the PC: What problems should reference librarians solve?. Legal Reference Services Quarterly, 19(1), 5.

Healey, P. D. (2008). Professional liability issues for librarians and information professionals. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers.

Idaho. Idaho Court Assistance Office website http://www.courtselfhelp.idaho.gov/

Leone, G. (1980). Malpractice liability of a law librarian? Law Library Journal, 73, 44-65.

Sims, L. (2004). Academic law library web sites: a source of service to the Pro se user.  Legal Reference Services Quarterly, 23(4), 1-28.

Appendix

TITLE FROM COURT ASSISTANCE WEB PAGE OCLC NO.
Advice for Homeowners: Foreclosure Intervention 796040244
Advice for Idaho Renters: Landlord and tenant rights and responsibilties 802432862
Advice for Renters & Homeowners: Utility Bills 796841093
Advice for Renters: Repairs 802375321
Advice for Renters: Federal Housing Programs 802433081
Advice for Renters: Foreclosure 802411777
Advice for Renters: Manufactured Home Tenants 802432717
Advice for Renters: Security Deposit 802411730
Alternatives: A Practical Guide for Survivors of Sexual Assalt and Sexual Abuse 798148010
Annulment Procedings in Idaho 800429535
Bankruptcy Basics 802289744
Basic Estate Planning: Questions & Answers 803059215
Child Custody, Visitation, & Support 796840025
Collecting on Your Small Claims Judgment 802952294
Consumer’s Guide to Hiring a Contractor 795866337
County Assistance: Payment of Hospital, Medical Expenses, & Other Necessities for Low Income People 802291648
Court Assistance Services 794689424
Crime Victims Compensation Program – Compensation Benefits 796939419
Crime Victims Compensation Program – Financial Recovery 796946639
Los Derechos De Victimas 798129381
Disability Rights 798122517
Divorce, Property, and Debts: Things You Need to Know 800448946
Domestic Violence & Guns 798160187
Execution & Garnishment of Judgments Protectig Exempt Wages, Property & Government Benefits 794765036
Got a Secret? 798157570
Have you made a will? 803983972
Guardianship & Conservatorship Questions & Answers 802297304
Holographic Wills: A Guideline for Preparing Your Will 803984057
How Does Idaho’s Contractor Registration Law Affect You? 802992566
Idaho Council on Domestic Violence & Victim Assistance – Funded Service Providers 800409349
Idaho Council on Domestic Violence & Victim Assistance -Approved Batterer Treatment Providers 800410004
Idaho Interactive Court Forms 794777424
Idaho Health Plan: Coverage for Your Child 800458017
Idaho Judicial Council: Answers to Common Questions on the Functions, Jurisdiction & Procedures 794602217
Idaho State Court System: Domestic Violence 795931527
Idaho State Court System: Family Law 794856431
Idaho State Law Library 793921363
Information Sheet for Defendants in Small Claims Cases 802977095
Information Sheet for Plaintiffs in Small Claims Cases 803036391
Introduccion Al Sistema Judicial de Idaho 794596050
Introduction to the Idaho State Court System 794573025
Jury Service in Idaho: What it Means and How It Works 794568645
Minor Guardianship Information 802296043
Most Frequently Asked Questions About Probate in Idaho 803984145
Need Help? Dial 2-1-1 for Idaho’s Free Statewide Community Information & Referral Service 803998542
Plan de Salud de Idaho: Cobertura para Niños 802279775
Preguntas y Respuestas Sobre Testamentos 803984213
Programa de Compensacion Para Victimas de Crimen 796946580
Protection Orders, Criminal No Contact Orders, Restraining Orders Definitions, Descriptions, & Differences 800422823
Provee Acceso a Servicios Legales para Individuos con Sueldo Bajo 802518401
Providing Access to Legal Services for Low-Income People 802459075
Questions & Answers About Wills 803987544
El Sistema Judicial de Idaho: Derecho de Familia 794865827
El Sistema Judicial de Idaho: La Violencia Domestica 796025587
So You Want to Bond Someone Out of Jail? 797969506
SSI and Social Security Disability 798146111
State of Idaho Court – Court of Appeals 794597247
Victims’ Rights 797971366
What if I Need a Lawyer? How do I Find a Good One? 802517565
What is the Contingent Fee? 796027785

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  1. Pingback: Fall 2012, v. 62, no. 2 | The Idaho Librarian - May 24, 2013

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