Press Release Posted on May 6, 2015 (http://bit.ly/1EH4D3K)
New York, NY (May 6, 2015) – For victims of rape, assault, and sexual assault who go to court without an attorney, just navigating the court system can be daunting, never mind understanding complex court orders. Roadblocks intensify for those with low English proficiency. Thanks to the efforts of nine legal services and nonprofit organizations, new resources have been created and have shown their ability to improve outcomes for low-income and Spanish-speaking litigants in courts in Texas and California.
Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid (TRLA) and Pro Bono Net led this effort, funded by the Legal Services Corporation Technology Initiative Grant program, which creates court orders in plain language and Spanish and as a result, provides low-income and limited-English court litigants and opposing parties with greater clarity and understanding about what the order includes and requires. This way, victims are protected and the other side can better understand how not to break the order. The two sites chosen for the project, Austin, TX and Sonoma County, CA both have significant and growing Spanish-speaking populations. Across the country the percentages of households speaking languages other than English at home are growing, and courts have had difficulty providing translated orders.
In Texas, automated forms are used by victim’s advocates and the Travis County Attorney’s Office to ensure that forms are clear and easy to understand. In California, the forms give appointments and instructions to custody litigants starting a case, explaining what to do next and where to show up for their next hearing. In both states, the forms are powered by LawHelp Interactive (LHI), an award-winning online national online document assembly platform in use in over 40 states. LHI is a program of Pro Bono Net, a national nonprofit working to increase access to justice through technology.
“The innovations driven by this project help to protect those most vulnerable. No one should have their security and safety threatened because they cannot understand complex court orders,” said David Hall, Executive Director at TRLA.
The partners set out to show that an increased understanding of court orders would lead to less violations and lower no-show rates. This would improve judicial effectiveness in already busy courthouses. More importantly, it would result in better protection to victims and their children in the long-term. An evaluation completed in 2014 by NPC Research found positive results at both testing sites, as orders were routinely issued in both languages, a feat that otherwise would have an incredible cost to the states. More importantly, in Travis County, Texas, plain language forms reduced contempt filings in sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking cases, helping protect victims. Additionally, this saves precious resources, including police department engagement, jail time, and additional shelter resources.
“Domestic violence orders are very specific, and they are critical to protecting a victim’s safety. If the person restrained, or the victim, cannot read and understand the order after they leave the court, the order is ineffectual. This project demonstrates that plain language and translated copies can go a long way in ensuring orders are followed, victims stay safe, and courts don’t waste valuable resources issuing orders that won’t be followed,” said Richard Zorza, an attorney and consultant on access to justice issues for over 15 years.
To date, this project is the largest and most ambitious online forms project with a multilingual component ever done in the LHI system. LHI’s technology automatically produced the plain language orders in English and translated custom copies to Spanish when individuals completed an interview.
“The Legal Services Corporation (LSC), through its Technology Initiative Grants program, has made many strategic investments in access-to-justice technology. Since 2010, LSC has invested almost $1.5 million in language access technology to improve access to justice regardless of national origin. We are very pleased to support this project, which uses the national online form capacity provided by LawHelp Interactive (another LSC-funded project). The outcomes show that when Spanish-speaking litigants receive an order and instructions they can understand, they are significantly more likely to benefit from the order,” said Jim Sandman, President of LSC.
The nine partners in the project were Pro Bono Net and its LawHelp Interactive program; TRLA; the Travis County Law Library and County Attorney in Austin, TX; Sonoma County court staff; Transcend; and the Self Represented Litigation Network forms group. The evaluation was done by NPC Research, and the forms automation done by Capstone Practice.
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About Pro Bono Net
Pro Bono Net is a national non-profit organization, founded 15 years ago, dedicated to increasing access to justice for the disadvantaged. Through innovative technology solutions and expertise in building and mobilizing justice networks, Pro Bono Net transforms the way legal help reaches the underserved. Today, we work with a broad network of access-to-justice partners to close the justice gap. Our comprehensive programs, including www.probono.net, www.lawhelp.org and www.lawhelpinteractive.org, enable legal advocates to make a stronger impact, increase volunteer participation, and empower the public with resources and self-help tools to improve their lives. For more information, visit www.probono.net.