If computer technology can change the way we buy dog food, why can't it make the legal system less intimidating?
That's the idea behind a groundbreaking project spearheaded by the Legal Aid Society of Orange County and the Superior Court that will soon allow the public to access the courts through computer kiosks across the county.
The I-CAN System uses software the Legal Aid Society developed, a touch screen and interactive video to walk people through the process of filing child support payment documents, restraining or eviction orders or small-claims forms.
"It takes you step by step through the court system and helps you understand the process," said Carole Levitzky, spokeswoman for the Orange County Superior Court. "It's very good for low-income people who can't afford to hire an attorney and are intimidated about going to court on their own."
The first I-CAN kiosk debuted last week at the court's Family Law Information Center at 341 City Drive in Orange.
Eventually, kiosks will be available at six other court locations, as well as at the Legal Aid Society's office and at public libraries in Irvine, San Juan Capistrano and Fullerton.
Kiosks Help Public Navigate Courts
Besides help filling out basic forms, the kiosks also will provide general legal information, referrals and a tour of the judicial system, including where to park for a court appearance.
They will create and print basic legal forms, which can then be filled out and hand-delivered or mailed to the courts.
The I-CAN System, developed with private grant money, is among the first of its kind nationwide. Promoters hope it will lighten the load on court personnel. The software, in a form that can be modified, will be shared with legal aid groups who ask for it.
"A lot of routine questions that the court is burdened with can be answered by pushing a touch screen," said Bob Cohen, the Legal Aid Society's executive director.
The system also will help demystify a process that can overwhelm people unfamiliar with it, he said.
Samantha Priest took a seat this week at a kiosk to answer a child support complaint--the alternative to waiting 3 1/2 hours for an appointment with a family law facilitator.
"I have no knowledge of computers," she said. "I kept fearing I might screw up."
But after some initial hesitation, the biggest problem Priest faced was getting the touch screen to work. Tapping appeared to work better than pressing it.
Fifteen minutes and a handful of questions later, I-CAN printed her document, which she then filed with the court.
"I hope I never have to come back to this place," she said, "but if I do, I'll feel more comfortable" working the computer.