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Douglas County District Court plans to launch self-help center

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James McCabria, chief judge of Douglas County District Court, said he was surprised at the length of the list that resulted when he asked court staff to compile a list of the most common questions they receive. 

Those questions will help develop a self-help center that will be a physical space inside the entry to the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center this fall.

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When he saw the lengthy list of FAQs, “I was convinced right away there’s a need for it,” McCabria told other Criminal Justice Coordinating Council members during their Tuesday meeting. 

He said the court is looking to hire a director for the self-help center who ideally would be an attorney. 

“The county’s been very supportive and working with the Supreme Court’s Office of Judicial Administration to explore various funding options for that position,” McCabria said. 

Some questions people may ask would have to be referred back to the attorneys already representing them, but there would be other needs. For example, CJCC member Mariel Ferreiro asked if the self-help center might be able to help provide support and education for people involved in eviction and civil cases. McCabria said yes, and he said he’d had Ferreiro in mind as someone who could have input on that aspect as the center gets more developed. Ferreiro said she would love to be on board for that. 

Otherwise, the center will help answer logistical questions that are currently routed all over the building — to court services, the court trustee’s office, the court clerk’s office and more.

“I think it’s gonna be something that will get a lot of use and provide a lot of assistance to folks that need it,” McCabria said. 

In other court updates, McCabria noted that Judge Kay Huff, who was instrumental in helping to launch the drug court program, will be retiring effective July 8. Two drug court participants spoke about the impact the program had on their lives. 

“I got my life back from this program. It’s changed my life,” one participant said. “I built relationships with my family that I thought I lost forever. I got a car; I have a job; I’m getting my daughter back in my life.”

McCabria said the tentative plan is for Judge Mark Simpson to take that spot when Huff retires, and whether that becomes permanent will depend on the two new judges coming in the near future. 

The Kansas Legislature decided this year to fund an additional division judge for Douglas County District Court. McCabria said his “best prediction” for when the seventh division judge will come on board would be in October. 

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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