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THE SAFETY ZONE | Spotlight

Soon, Legal Help at One's Fingertips

August 28, 2000|WILLOUGHBY MARIANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

This fall, getting basic legal advice or filing for temporary restraining orders and obtaining other forms may become as convenient as going to the library.

Electronic kiosks outfitted with touch screens and keyboards will begin appearing at libraries and other government buildings. Bob Cohen, executive director of the Legal Aid Society of Orange County, believes they will make legal help more accessible.

He hopes that the computers will provide a safe environment for people who are reluctant or unable to seek help from attorneys, such as victims of domestic violence or stalkers.

The kiosks will create and print basic legal forms such as restraining orders, paternity forms and small-claims complaints. The documents can then be filled out and hand-delivered or mailed to the courts.

In addition, the kiosks will offer practical advice through multimedia demonstrations.

"We don't think that folks should have to wait for such an essential service," Cohen said. "And we don't think that you should have to plan all the details of this on your own when you're in a stressful, maybe dangerous situation."

The computers walk users through the process of filling out legal forms.

Without these kiosks, many people seeking basic legal services would have to spend a day in court filing out forms and seeing counselors, Cohen said.

The kiosks also attempt to familiarize people with the court system. Interactive tours describe how court hearings work. Users can confer with attorneys and paralegals staffing the Legal Aid Society's hotline through an attached telephone.

A video presentation will give practical advice to victims of domestic violence. Advice includes suggesting the removal of important papers from the house and avoiding confrontations in a kitchen, where ordinary housewares such as knives could become deadly weapons.

The kiosks, paid for by about $275,000 in state and federal funds, are to be connected to the Internet by late fall.

The first three terminals will be tested this month at the Lamoreaux Justice Center in Orange and at the Legal Aid Society office in Santa Ana. Six more are planned for later this fall at libraries in San Juan Capistrano, Fullerton and Irvine, among other cities.

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