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Group advises on court system accessibility

The West Virginia Access to Justice Commission released a list of recommendations detailing what it thinks needs to happen to make the state's court system more accessible.

Earlier this summer, the commission gave the state Supreme Court a report about problems residents encounter when accessing the court system. The commission's recommendations that it delivered in its most recent meeting are based on that report.

The commission, which was established by a January 2009 administrative order, said there are many accessibility problems facing West Virginians but it all goes back to the ability to afford representation.

"Often, people can't afford attorneys and don't seek representation, believing they can't afford counsel or don't know where to go to find help," the commission's report states. "They give up before they get started. Others enter the system but are forced to represent themselves, all too often inadequately."

So, what needs to happen to improve accessibility?

First, the commission recommends encouraging support of "adequate public and private funding" for Legal Aid of West Virginia and other similar programs serving low-income clients.

For people acting as their own attorneys, the commission says there needs to be an online self-help center and a hotline to support it.

The commission's report said the West Virginia State Bar, Legal Aid of West Virginia and West Virginia Senior Legal Aid can work together to develop a strong pro bono program. It also mentioned the possibility of a pro bono summit.

The commission did not make specific recommendations for assistance for the disabled, senior citizens, workers' compensation and veterans whose needs aren't met by the Veteran's Administration. The report said more review is needed in these areas.

For the mentally disabled, the commission said there needs to be more review on the creation of community-based treatment as opposed to institutional treatment and access to guardianship records for advocates.

Areas of review for the disabled also included representation for people involuntarily committed and accessibility to courthouses and parking lots.

Last, the commission said more review is needed for further training for court personnel to assist people representing themselves along with the disabled, seniors and domestic violence victims.

The commission says this will set a foundation to ensure "meaningful access to the civil justice system."

Contact writer Andrea Lannom at Andrea.Lannom@dailymail.com or 304-348-5148. Follow her at www.twitter.com/AndreaLannom.


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