AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – According to an announcement from the Texas Legal Services Center, Amarillo’s Guyon Saunders Resource Center has become home to one of the state’s first virtual court kiosks aimed at providing free legal services to community members.
The TLSC described that the kiosk is part of a statewide pilot project, the Virtual Court Access Project, intended to improve low-income Texans’ ability to receive free legal services with accessibility, physical virtual court kiosks acting as legal aid centers in high-traffic locations.
In Amarillo, for example, the Guyon Saunders Resource Center already stands as a major community center for referrals, housing assistance, transportation assistance, legal aid, and other free resources. Its participation in the pilot program appears set to further expand its already-standing legal aid services.
Executive director of Guyon Saunders Resource Center Will Grant said a lot of clients at the center are unaware of the resources and options that they have and having the virtual court kiosk allows the clients to be aware of all of it.
“You need to know what options you have out there legally. For some of our clients, they may think that they don’t have any options when it comes to legal services. But they do. There are lawyers out there who will help them pro bono a lot of times,” said Grant. “It helps him to appear through court appearances, because a lot of these guys don’t have transportation to get down to Potter or Randall County.”
The grant added that he hopes with this program the clients of the center will be able to begin the process of moving forward in their lives.
“My prayer is that they will be able to find the services they need either for housing, SNAP benefits, even legal benefits. Our last thing that we want to do is see one of our clients get locked out because they forget to make a court appearance or can’t make a court appearance,” said Grant.
Community members who are unable to access a computer, smartphone, or reliable internet service will be able to attend online court hearings, receive free legal help, or find legal information and resources at the kiosks in both English and Spanish.
“During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the State of Texas implemented court proceedings in a virtual setting via video conferencing,” Karen Miller, executive director of the Texas Legal Services Center, said. “While this innovative use of technology expands access to justice and increases court engagement, many Texans are left without the necessary resources to navigate court in a virtual setting and effectively participate. The virtual court kiosks will remove this barrier and serve to empower Texans across the state.”
The TLSC said that those using the kiosks will receive technical assistance from online chat and phone services, alongside step-by-step instructions on submitting evidence and attending virtual courts. The kiosks are also expected to offer a collection of virtual court education materials and LiveChat services on TexasLawHelp.orgwhere users can chat with an attorney and receive free legal advice.
TLSC said that the statewide pilot is planned to deploy 25 virtual court kiosks around Texas to be installed inside community centers, shelters, clinics, libraries and other high-traffic locations. With increased funding, TLSC aims to implement 250 additional kiosks across the state.
“While the kiosk itself is a useful tool, its placement within community centers provides a multiplier effect for legal services.” Miller said. “One of the exciting aspects of this project is the community partnership with the host site. Vulnerable Texans will benefit from accessing legal aid right inside their community center, where they will find all-inclusive services to help them solve the many problems that accompany legal issues.”
More information on the TLSC can be found here, as well as more information on its funding organization, the Texas Access to Justice Foundation. Further information on the kiosk project can be found here.
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