UD Law students play big role in court’s new self-help center

Dayton Municipal Court has opened a new self-help center to try to help citizens negotiate the judicial system, especially those who represent themselves.

In municipal court, many people don’t hire an attorney, and some get confused by procedural and filing requirements, the court process and their rights.

The new center provides resources and in-person assistance from University of Dayton School of Law students.

“Going to court can be a scary proposition, especially if you have to do it yourself,” said Mark Owens, Dayton Municipal Court Clerk of Court. “We hope that this center will give guidance to citizens to navigate the court system.”

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Last year, the Dayton Municipal Court received an $18,000 grant from the Ohio Supreme Court to open the new center.

The center, which had a soft opening last month, offers three computer stations, official court forms, external and in-house-designed law pamphlets and other information, Owens said.

Municipal court is where civil cases are filed that are valued at $15,000 or less. Small claims cases filed in municipal court are valued at $6,000 or less. And municipal court also is where evictions, wage garnishments and other attachments are handled.

These may be considered small or low-dollar cases, but to the parties involved, these are big deals, Owens said.

In addition to computers and resources, UD School of Law students will staff the office about six hours every day to assist walk-in visitors.

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Law students are not permitted to give legal advice, but they can provide direction and guidance and review information with citizens to explain their rights and the legal process, said Dayton Municipal Court Judge Deirdre Logan.

“We have a significant number of people who file their own actions,” Logan said. “Sometimes those actions are rejected because they are not properly pled and filed … this room and the law students will assist them.”

The self-help center removes barriers giving everyone access to the court system and useful information, and it prevents delays that come with filing mistakes, she said.

The self-help center is focused on small claims, rent escrow and eviction cases, but the court plans to expand to areas such as driving privileges, expungement, sealing of records and other traffic and criminal topics.

The self-help center, the first in Dayton Municipal Court’s 106-year history, is open during normal court hours.

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