Las Vegas Sun

October 1, 2014

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ANSWERS: CLARK COUNTY:

Self-help center would aid amateur civil lawyers

Thousands of people enter the Clark County justice system every year representing themselves, playing Perry Mason in civil matters that would cost them dearly if they hired an attorney.

Sounds potentially problematic and a big time waster for the courts. Is there anything afoot to help these would-be Matlocks so they can get in, get out and speed up the slow wheels of justice?

On Tuesday, in fact, an ordinance will be introduced to the Clark County Commission asking for a court filing fee increase to fund a “self-help” center for just these temporary advocates.

The $3 increase in District Court and Justice Court filing fees would be designated for the Neighborhood Justice Center. Total money raised by the increase is estimated at $540,000 in fiscal year 2009.

What? Someone actually thinks that by raising a fee, they might save taxpayers money?

Leah Stromberg, supervisor of the Clark County Neighborhood Justice Center, which would oversee the self-help center, said the money would be used to hire some county staff and to contract for additional help from Clark County Legal Services and Nevada Legal Services. For people from the hinterlands of Clark County, the money would be used to provide Internet access, videoconferencing capabilities and telephone access.

But how does that help? Why not let these self-appointed legal eagles sink or swim?

Because that’s both time consuming and, to a degree, unfair.

District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez, who presides over the civil division, noted that civil litigants are not guaranteed an attorney the way criminal defendants who can’t afford one are. She estimated that 50 percent of all civil litigants in Justice Court represent themselves. It’s the real-life “People’s Court.”

Being a judge for those cases, she said, “is very difficult ... because while we want to provide justice, the self-represented litigant has to comply with the same rules (of the court) and frequently they don’t know how to get the information to the judicial officers so it can be fully digested. There are so many procedural pitfalls that their dispute isn’t adequately heard.”

With self-help, Stromberg added, expectations are not just that more people will show up better prepared, but that more people will show up, period.

“Sometimes they don’t show up because they don’t believe they have any defense, or they don’t know how to defend themselves,” she said.

• • •

The urban core of Clark County is surprisingly rife with wildlife, in the Mother Nature sense. Lately, there has been a lot of discussion, and county government action, regarding the growing ranks of feral cats. Now, the county is trying to do more to control killer bees.

“Killer” bees?

OK, Africanized bees, bees with the genetics to withstand the rigors of the jungle. Like the rest of the world, about 10 years ago, the bees discovered that Clark County was a great place to move to.

They’re prolific pollinators, and they’re much more aggressive than their latte-and-nectar sipping European cousins.

So what? What’s this have to do with county government?

Well, if you have a neighbor who leaves old tires, boxes or other colonization havens in his back yard, bees might take up residence there. And, says state entomologist Jeff Knight, you can’t tell for sure, but it’s pretty safe to assume that such a wild hive would consist of Africanized bees.

Now let’s just suppose said “bees” find your back yard a suitable hunting ground for fresh pollen, water or the back of your neck.

An ordinance to be introduced at Tuesday’s commission meeting would give the county the power to order your neighbor to do something about his bee hive if it “interferes with the normal use or enjoyment” of your property.

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