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Brooklyn Federal Court opens new Pro Se Legal Assistance center

July 8, 2015 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
President of the New York City Bar Association Debra Raskin (second from left) and Chief Judge Carol Bagley Amon (center) help cut the ribbon to officially open the City Bar Justice Center on Tuesday, with Lynn Kelly (left), Hon. Lois Bloom (second from right) and Nancy Rosenbloom (right). Eagle photos by Rob Abruzzese

Clients representing themselves in Brooklyn’s federal courthouse are getting some help.

A ribbon cutting ceremony was held at the federal courthouse on Tuesday to announce the opening of the Federal Pro Se Legal Assistance Project. The new office space is a joint initiative with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York and the City Bar Justice Center. It’s a space in the courthouse that is designed to give pro se litigants access to high-quality legal assistance.

“We are just so pleased to be able to celebrate this joint initiative with the City Bar Justice Center,” said the court’s Chief Judge Carol Bagley Amon. “The goal of this program is to provide much needed legal assistance to our pro se community. Pro se cases represent a very significant portion of our docket and we have a pro se office and a pro se clerk’s staff, but they can’t do a lot of things that needed to be done.”

The clinic, which consists of three offices and a waiting room, held its ribbon cutting ceremony on Tuesday, but has already been open for more than three months. In that time, project Director Nancy Rosenbloom said it has held 181 appointments and assisted 104 litigants free of charge.

“There are about 1,200 civil cases every year that people file pro se, without lawyers, and it’s very hard to navigate the federal court system without a lawyer,” Rosenbloom said. “These are complicated issues. So it really helps the court as well as helping our low-income clients to try to really have access to justice because there are some areas where there is no legal help available out there and people can’t afford lawyers.”

The clinic provides services including review of papers, pre-filing counseling on procedure and deadlines, research, drafting assistance, strategy discussion and other advice and counsel. It also refers litigants to legal service providers and pro bono counsel when possible.

The pro se legal assistance project was the brain-child of federal Magistrate Judge Lois Bloom, who modeled it after a district court program in the Northern District of California. It is the first of its kind in New York state.

“Despite the best efforts of the clerk’s office here, the judges and the magistrate judges, people can’t be expected to make their way through the thicket of the legal system without some help,” said Debra Raskin, president of the New York City Bar Association. “We hope that this much needed project will provide that help here and also help to become a national model.”

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Bloom gave brief remarks during the ribbon cutting ceremony, but mostly gave the credit to the Eastern District Civil Litigation Fund including its president Anthony A. Dean, Bennette Kramer and Stephen Loffredo.

 

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