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Help Center at Hamilton County Courthouse Opens Doors to Justice

On Monday, September 25, 2017 Aftab Pureval ’08, Hamilton County Clerk of Courts and the Hon. Brad Greenberg, Presiding and Administrative Judge, Hamilton County Municipal Court, launched the Help Center at the Hamilton County Courthouse. The Help Center will serve the citizens of Hamilton County by increasing access to justice in the municipal courts.

In his remarks, Pureval stated, “Today, we are launching a Help Center for municipal court that will assist people who do not have an attorney get the support and legal advice they need to represent themselves. Whether it’s a landlord-tenet issue or a small claim, this Help Center will enable people to access justice, so they can stay in their homes or get a job.” He addressed the need for such a center, noting that “Legal Aid, . . . an incredible organization . . . has said they can only represent one in five people who come in for representation.” The Help Center will provide information and access to representation for all.

Maureen O’Connor, Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Ohio, attended the ceremony and congratulated the Center’s founders. “You are addressing a growing need in our society, working together to strengthen our justice system by making it available to the economically disadvantaged.” She then quipped, “You all get an big ‘A’ ,” specifying that it was an “A for access.”

Chief Justice O’Connor noted the importance of establishing a physical location with devoted staff. She lauded community leaders for not operating on the assumption that “technology alone can solve access to justice problems, that an app or a kiosk can open the doors of justice for the less fortunate in our communities.” She was “happy to learn that this Help Center will have an attorney-director, Robert Wall [Cincinnati Law Class of ’08 alum], and that law student volunteers from the University of Cincinnati and Chase law schools and attorneys working pro bono will volunteer here as well.”

The opening also was attended by several Hamilton County commissioners. Todd Portune, Commissioner, addressed the crowd gathered in the Help Center, pledging, “We will do all that we can to make this Help Center be what it can be for the people of Hamilton County and to make sure that the administration of the laws of Hamilton County goes beyond . . . access to the courts. There can be no access to the court without the understanding, the knowledge, and the know-how of how the courts and the judicial powers operate.” He affirmed, “that failure of duty ends today.”

Denise Driehaus, Commissioner, Hamilton County, recalled her time as a state representative during the foreclosure crisis. “[There were] all these organizations in the community doing all this good work, [but] they were overwhelmed, and so people did not have the access that they need to navigate the system, and many of them lost their homes.” She referred to the Help Center as “a symbol of how we can do better and how we are going to do better.”

Cincinnati Law’s Dean Verna Williams concluded the celebration with the following words: “There is no more pressing issue in the state than access to justice,” she asserted. “UC College of Law is thrilled to be part of this important project. We strive to provide our students with learning environments that inspire the pursuit of justice and foster collaborative relationships. Being involved from the ground up on this Help Center ensures that we fulfill that promise to our students.”

Williams made it clear that the College of Law would maintain a continuing role with the Help Center. “As we move from planning to implementation, our students will further that condition by working with staff attorney Rob Wall, as well as working with volunteers of such organizations as the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati, the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, attorneys from local law firms, and law students from across the river at Chase College of Law.”

The Help Center is located in Room 113 of the Hamilton County Courthouse. It is currently open daily from 8:00 am to 12:00 pm. These hours will be extended later in the year. The staff anticipates that most county residents will come to the center for assistance with landlord-tenet disputes, as well as many cases dealing with small claims.

This new Help Center is the first of its kind in Ohio. When asked what models the center would use now that it is up and running, Chief Justice O’Connor replied confidently, “This is the model.”