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Brooklyn Surrogate’s Court opens help center to assist pro se litigants

October 17, 2018 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Pictured from left: Lillian Claudio-Blum, Hon. John Ingram, Hon. Margarita Lopez Torres, Doreen A. Quinn and Hon. Edwina Richardson-Mendelson. Eagle photos by Rob Abruzzese
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The old saying goes, “a person who represents themselves in court has a fool for a client,” but in New York state, an estimated 2 million people do exactly that every year.

That’s why the Brooklyn Surrogate’s Court has fought for years to open a pro se litigant Help Center, which it finally officially opened during a ceremony at the courthouse in Downtown Brooklyn on Friday.

“The need is tremendous,” said Hon. Edwina Richardson-Mendelson, the deputy chief administrative judge for NYS Justice Initiatives. “There are about 2 million unrepresented court users in our state. That’s a low estimate because so many people need help from the court system and don’t even know that they have issues of concern. This makes our 29th official help center in NYS, and the 4th help center in NYC Surrogate’s Court.”

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The help center is designed specifically to assist people represent themselves in Surrogate’s Court. There are 29 similar help centers across the state and this is the fourth help center in the New York City Surrogate’s Courts. In 2017, those 29 help centers assisted approximately 200,000 people.

Brooklyn Surrogate’s Court Judge Margarita Lopez Torres explained that there was a great effort to make the space open, bright and beautiful so that it would entice those looking for help.

“We wanted something that tells pro se litigants that they are important and that they are welcome,” said Judge Lopez Torres. “It’s really exciting for me as a former legal services attorney. The thing all of us care most about is what justice is, and you can’t have justice if not everyone can participate.”

Judge Lopez Torres also pointed out that the Brooklyn Bar Association, and especially past president Hon. Frank Seddio, had a big impact in encouraging the Help Center’s creation. The BBA is also providing assistance through its Trust and Estates Committee, which immediately reached out to the court to help.

She also thanked Hon. Lawrence Marks, Hon. George Silver, Hon. Richardson-Mendelson, chief clerk Doreen A. Quinn and Lillian Claudio-Blum, who is going to assist with running the Help Center.

Judge John Ingram, who said that he’s already referring pro se litigants to the Help Center, was quick to point out the huge role that Judge Lopez Torres herself played in getting it opened.

“She was the main driving person behind this,” Ingram said. “I can remember her saying, I want this there, and that there. She did it with the help of our wonderful chief clerk Doreen and Lillian put a lot into it.”

The Surrogate’s Court Help Center is immediately available to pro se litigants in Brooklyn. It’s located on the second floor, Room 231. Computers and DIY forms are available and there will be court staff on hand for assistance.


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