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Portage County Domestic Relations Court is starting a new program for people who have straightforward legal issues, but can't afford legal help.
Judge Paula Giulitto said the court and the University of Akron School of Law have agreed to start a domestic relations clinic that will have upper level law students assist eligible low-income residents with simple legal actions. This is the first semester for the course and so far four students are in it, Giulitto said. The number may go up in future semesters.
The clinic is the second phase of an assistance program started last year by the Portage County Bar Association, Giulitto said. That program gave eligible residents a free, 30-minute conference with an attorney to get advice on legal questions.
The new clinic goes beyond that, to get people the representation they know they need, Giulitto said.
In the clinic, the law students will represent people in filing such actions as uncontested divorces, dissolutions and uncontested legal separations, prosecute civil protection orders, and defend people charged with failure to pay child support, Giulitto said.
The program is being offered as a course for upper-level law students at the University of Akron, with attorney Tim Thomas as the adjunct professor. This is Thomas' first experience at the head of the classroom.
Thomas, of McClelland & Thomas in Ravenna, said it was the good experience he had as an intern at the University of Toledo law school that prompted him to join this new clinic.
"I found it very beneficial," he said. "I think it gives a higher level of competence that is projected out on the community. It gives the community confidence in the competence" of the lawyers who've gone through one.
In addition to being the classroom instructor, Thomas, who has been practicing law for 38 years, will be the supervising attorney for all cases in the clinic and will sign all the pleadings.
The clinic already has eight referrals through Community Legal Aid in Akron.
UA's law school has a very good intern program in a lot of different areas, but this is the first such clinic in domestic relations court.
Thomas said his goal "is to get as much practical knowledge into the hands of the interns as we can."
Giulitto said it took about a year for her idea to come to fruition.
"The mind set is to get students involved in a case from start to end within a semester," she said. The students will do the whole process from talking with clients, drawing up and filing paperwork and appearing in court to argue for their clients.
"My whole desire was to allow people to get the representation they need," Giulitto said.
There is no cost for representation by the students. People who think they might need legal help can apply for the Portage County Domestic Relations Clinic through the Akron office of Community Legal Aid (www.ohiolegalservices.org) at 330-535-4191 to see if they are eligible for representation.
Contact this reporter at 330-298-1125 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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