Chancery Court Judge Debra Giles held her first Pro Se Day in Sunflower County last week.
Sub district 9-2 Chancery Judge Debra Giles held her first Pro Se Day last Thursday at the Sunflower County Courthouse. Giles is meeting with law student Kaylyn Caston and attorneys Gayla Carpenter-Sanders, Gwendolyn Jimison and Tanisha Gates.
The purpose of the pro se day clinic was to assist residents of Sunflower and Humphreys counties, who may not be able to afford an attorney and would like to represent themselves, present their petitions to the court, argue their own case and secure a resolution to their legal issue.
Thursday’s convening was designed to mainly address persons seeking a divorce on the basis of irreconcilable differences, guardianships or desertions. Giles partnered with the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project, headed by Attorney Gayla Carpenter-Sanders, executive director and general counsel.
The MVLP, which is a statewide non-profit organization that has been in operation for 37 years, brought in local attorneys from Giles’ district to work with each petitioner to make sure their petition is correct and that it abides by the law so that when it is presented to the court it would be in legal compliance so the judge can sign off on it.
Giles said, “They basically tell us that everything is in order and the court reviews the pleadings and signs the final judgment.” Giles said in addition, the attorneys would also draft the final judgment for the person free of charge.
With reference to Thursday’s clinic, Carpenter-Sanders said, “Basically what we’re here to do is just help them understand the legal process and then if there is some issue with their paperwork preventing them from getting a final judgment then our attorneys are here today to help them correct that paperwork so they can get the final judgment and move on with the next phase of their lives.”
Giles said other Chancery Courts around the state, including Washington County, have been conducting these types of clinics for years. “This court feels that it is something that’s needed, it is something that’s necessary,” she said.
The MVLP partners with private attorneys and firms across the state who are willing to donate their time to provide free help on legal cases to individuals who are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.
The newly-elected judge said if a person comes before the bench and their paperwork is incomplete or incorrect she, as judge, can’t tell them what is wrong, which is why the partnership with the MVLP is so vital. “All I can do is send them downstairs to the Chancery Clerk’s office, they can have a discussion with her.”
She said the Chancery Clerk would then put them in touch with the Access to Justice Commission, which also partners with the MVLP.
The Mississippi Supreme Court formed Access to Justice in June of 2006, with the intent purpose of developing a unified strategy to improve access to justice in civil legal proceedings for the impoverished in Mississippi.
Giles said in setting up the clinics, several factors have to be considered.
“We have to look at the population of people that we have, we have to look at the number of lawyers we have here in the community and the income of the individuals in the community,” she said.
Giles said Carpenter-Sanders’ organization provides an invaluable service.
“She’s been phenomenal in leading that organization forward and allowing individuals to be able to get their cases heard by chancery courts.”
MVLP assists with a variety of legal services other than divorce and Chancery Court matters.
“One of the ways that we deliver these services in the community is through these legal clinics,” said Carpenter-Sanders.
The volunteer attorneys receive required Continuing Legal Education credits for their participation.
Since 1982, MVLP has reportedly helped thousands of underserved Mississippians gain access to attorneys and courts.
They process approximately 2,400 cases per year and work in partnership with the Legal Services Corporation and the Mississippi Bar Association.
Giles said she will be conducting clinics quarterly and the next one is scheduled for May 16 in Humphreys County.