New explanatory article by Ayn Traylor Sadberry on why Court Clerks cannot give you legal advice
Many people who for one reason or another end up in Court do not have the financial means to consult with, or hire, a lawyer. Their first point of contact with the Court is in many cases the Clerk's office.
By: Law Offices of Ayn Traylor-Sadberry, P.C.
You might have seen in movies where a person being sued runs to the courthouse, is sent from one desk to another, and finally one merciful court clerk with large, horn-rimmed librarian glasses, reveals the legal strategy that ends the legal quagmire. But that happens only in the movies. In real life, court clerks are not allowed to dispense legal advice. That can make life more difficult for any pro se litigant, and burdens the legal system as a whole.
That clerks cannot provide legal advice in Alabama is prominently stated in documents and on websites. See, for example, "By law, the appellate and library staff cannot provide legal advice," (Website of Alabama Appellate Courts, http://judicial.alabama.gov/
A 2009 Report by the Alabama Access to Justice Commission (Christina Llop, Esq.) notes that "Judges and clerks find consistent problems with self- represented parties expecting them to provide legal advice, failing to understand rules of procedure and evidence, failing to bring necessary witnesses and evidence to court, and refusing to accept the court's rulings. In fact, Judge Jack Lowther expressed the same frustration heard from judicial officers around the nation: having to rule against a self-represented litigant not because they did not have a strong and possibly winning case, but because they did not know how to prove their case or their damages. The result, apart from the significant potential for failure to find redress for legitimate legal claims, is wasted judicial and staffing resources." (Report, page 10).
Thus, one of the Report's recommendations is to "Create clear statewide definitions of legal information and legal advice and guidelines applicable to clerk offices." Another recommendation, to assist those in need of legal advice, is to "Establish a pilot self-help center in Jefferson County's District and Circuit Courts." See https://alabamaatj.org/
In 2002, the Judicial Council of California addressed this issue with a form called "MC-800, Court Clerk's Office: Signage" that allows court clerks to offer specified assistance to court users. See "May I help you? Legal Advice vs. Legal Information"
Now that you know what information you can get at the court from the court clerk, you can ask the right questions and not get twisted in circles, visiting one department from another. Keep in mind, you might not always get the information you are seeking, so be patient and ask for further directions rather than getting frustrated and breaking any rules and regulations.
It seems this issue will continue. Legal self-help centers (as suggested in the Report by the Alabama Access to Justice Commission, cited above), flexible payment plans offered by attorneys, and allowing paralegal professionals to provide limited representation (as proposed in some other States) may provide some relief.
*** Ayn Traylor-Sadberry is a domestic relations & family law attorney in Birmingham, Alabama.
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Law Offices of Ayn Traylor-Sadberry, P.C.