By Daniel Silliman
Clayton County is providing unprecedented access to courthouse documents, with two computers at the headquarters library dedicated to local, legal information.
A partnership of the Clayton County Library System and the Superior and State Court Administrator's Office has put two computers in the library on Battle Creek Road in Jonesboro. The computers are loaded with court forms for everything from eviction notices to divorces; information about representing yourself; legal resources and lawyer listings; and access to a case's status reports.
"This is our first stab at making the courts more accessible," said Yolanda Lewis, court administrator. "You can get all this on the Internet, if you're astute and know where to go. But if you don't, it's a very complicated process."
Going to the courthouse for information can be intimidating and can also be hard for those people who work during the eight hours the courthouse is open. The library, however, is open until 9 p.m., most nights, and on weekends.
Looking up legal information on the Internet often leads people to irrelevant, untrustworthy or out-dated information. The library computers, on the other hand, offer step-by-step guides, check lists of needed forms and an overview of the entire court system, complete with flow charts and textbook explanations of the parts of the county's legal system.
"This is not a substitute for legal advice or an attorney," Lewis said. "It's just a way to provide information, and quality information."
The computers are part of a pilot project, and were set up without any cost to the county. The computers were donated by county employees, wiped clean and re-worked. The Court and Community Access Program partnership set them up on July 1, without any public notice or advertising, waiting to see how they worked.
Carol J. Stewart, director of library services, said about 20 people used the two computers in the first 20 days, mostly to look up information about domestic relations.
According to Stewart, legal resources are always in demand at the library, but accurate, local and up-to-date information has always been lacking, and the library has struggled to meet the need.
"We got anything we could afford to buy, because, honestly, we get so many requests," she said. "We created this as a solution for what we saw as a problem."