Assistance at Compton Courthouse for Self-Represented Litigants

Photo of the Compton CourthouseThe staff at the Compton Courthouse Legal Self-Help Center (Self-Help Center) do not offer litigants legal advice and yet each morning, Monday through Friday, there is a line well out of the door from the moment they open. With no conflict checks, no financial eligibility requirements, and with the ability to help anyone whose case has been filed in the other courthouses in Los Angeles County, the demand for assistance is high.

At the Self-Help Center, litigants can receive assistance with a broad array of issues including but not limited to divorce, paternity, child custody, visitation, child support, unlawful detainers, domestic violence, civil harassment, elder abuse, name change, gender change and claims of exemption.  Many of them receive the information and assistance they need through one of the Self-Help Center’s workshops.

Often, litigants come to the Self-Help Center with a sense of desperation because they have nowhere else to turn. Sometimes, they arrive hours after a violent confrontation in order to seek protection through a restraining order. Others arrive on their last day to respond to evictions because they were unable to get appointments elsewhere within the 5-calendar-day time limit to respond. The Self-Help Center is staffed with an attorney, two paralegals and a team of JusticeCorps who are ready to do their best to triage urgent matters and help when and if possible.

By our calculations, the number of litigants who seek help at the Self-Help Center is substantial, with a total of 18,441 served in the year 2018 and 1,531 in the month of June 2019.  In fact, in June staff assisted 114 litigants in one day.  Sometimes they are at capacity for the whole day from the very moment they open. The majority of the litigants come for assistance with family law and unlawful detainers.

Because legal advice is not dispensed, most of the work at the Self-Help Center offers an opportunity for new interns and volunteers to easily step in and lend a hand.  In the month of June, there were 21 volunteers (including the JusticeCorps members and Fellows) who volunteered a total of 1,013 hours. Volunteers come from various places such as the JusticeCorps program, local paralegal schools, and undergraduate students who want to volunteer.

Some interesting facts about the Compton Self-Help Center:

  • Since an attorney/client relationship is not established, oftentimes staff assist both parties in a dispute. For example, for assistance with unlawful detainers (evictions), the staff can help both tenants and landlords.
  • Because the center has no income eligibility requirements, people who have real property cases and other high value assets often come to the center for assistance.
  • The staff members are specialists in service through the Hague Service Convention. The Hague Service Convention is a multilateral accord that allows service of judicial documents from one signatory state to another without recourse to consular and diplomatic channels. The Convention greatly simplifies the service of court documents on persons located overseas in civil matters.   As such, Self-Help staff receive referrals and appointments from other courthouses to assist litigants with getting their documents served on an adverse party who is in a foreign country that is a signatory of the Hague Service Convention. The staff often works on cases being served in Mexico but have also worked on cases going to other countries such as Ireland, China, Germany, South Korea, Belize, the Netherlands and Canada.

The level of intensity of the Compton Self-Help Center is challenging but as the staff attorney shared, being able to help such a significant number of people on a daily basis with matters that will make a considerable impact on their lives is more than worth it.

 

Sign on the Compton Courthouse

Compton Courthouse Self-Help Center is located at 200 West Compton Boulevard, Compton, CA 90220 and open Mondays through Thursdays 8:30 – 12 and 1:30 – 5  and Fridays 8:30 -12, excluding court  holidays.