Craig attorney re-starts legal clinic

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A legal service dropped because of state budget cuts will soon return to Moffat County in a scaled-down version.

Attorney Sandra Gardner -- who continued to volunteer services in a pro se legal clinic in Steamboat Springs after state funding was eliminated for the program last September -- will start similar meetings in Craig this month.

"The community has a very definite need for this," said Gardner, who has practiced law in Craig since 1991. "It alleviates a lot of the pressure for the (court) clerks and takes away a lot of the public's frustration."

The clinics are for residents who plan to represent themselves in civil matters.

Those involved in criminal cases aren't eligible, she said.

Half-hour sessions are available by appointment, while Gardner said she couldn't offer legal advice or represent attendees in court.

"This is for procedure assistance and they make the ultimate decisions on what they're going to ask for," Gardner said.

In a divorce case, for example, she said she couldn't assess property for a fair division between parties.

"I can recommend whether or not they should get an attorney," Gardner added.

The clinics will be free of charge with no financial guidelines attached.

They're scheduled once a month over three-hour blocks through the rest of this year.

"She's very generous to do this, but it's not like we're replacing what we had before," said Evan Herman, 14th Judicial District administrator.

The state began funding the pro se clinics five years ago.

Craig attorney Rebekah A. McBride ran the clinics weekly at the Moffat County Courthouse, while separate attorneys ran clinics

on a similar schedule in Routt and Grand counties.

The service, which Herman said cost the district about $13,000 annually, was one of several initiatives cut last fall as lawmakers grappled with budgetary shortfalls.

Those who come to court often sift through legal procedures and can't always turn to clerks for what they need. Clerks aren't allowed to give legal advice under state law, while Gardner noted that divorce proceedings alone include packets containing 50 to 60 pages.

"It's tough for them (clerks) because they all want to help whoever comes to the counter," Herman said.

Diana Meyer, clerk of the Moffat County Combined Courts office, said staff in many cases refer customers to brochures, or the state judicial branch's Web site.

Meyer said that past clinics suggest Gardner will stay busy.

"Even if people canceled or didn't show, often there were walk-ins," she said.

Paul Shockley can be reached at 824-7031 or at pshockley@craigdailypress.com.

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