Last week, Chief Judge Lee Satterfield of the D.C. Superior Court signed Administrative Order No. 12-08, which authorizes temporary appearances in the Small Claims and Conciliation Branch and the Civil Actions Branch Collections calendar. The Order goes into effect July 30, 2012.
Each year, the Court handles a high volume of debt collection cases, the vast majority of which involve unrepresented litigants who attempt to navigate the court system without the benefit of legal counsel. While the Consumer Law Resource Center and the Small Claims Resource Center offer legal information and referrals, neither provides legal advice or representation to low-income litigants. The Order allows attorneys to enter temporary appearances so that they can advise litigants about their rights and options, assist with settlement negotiations, and represent litigants at hearings and trials to assert valid claims and defenses.
The Order also lays the groundwork for Legal Aid -- in partnership with AARP Legal Counsel for the Elderly and the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program -- to proceed with its plan to establish a Consumer Law Court-Based Legal Services Project at the courthouse this fall. Mirroring the work of the successful court-based legal service projects in the housing and family law courts, this new project will provide low-income litigants with access to temporary, same-day legal representation in debt collection actions. We hope to be able to share more news on this exciting new project in the coming months.