Published Apr 1, 2010 9:00 AM
Speaking fluent legalese, you might not think that Jennifer Gothier, a fourth-year political science student at UCLA, is a lawyer. But she only recently ventured into law through the civic engagement program JusticeCorps. Developed in part with the UCLA Center for Community Learning, JusticeCorps selects undergraduate students who support litigants through self-help resource centers in Los Angeles County. JusticeCorps is funded through the California Administrative Office of the Courts and is an AmeriCorps program, the national organization that sponsors civic engagement.
Many self-represented litigants get trapped trying to resolve cases involving issues like custody disputes and landlord-tenant disagreements. When JusticeCorps was created six years ago, its founders envisioned a program that could help unclog the system.
The majority of students selected for the Los Angeles JusticeCorps are Bruins, although it is also open to students from USC and Cal State schools in the area. They must complete 60 hours of training in preparation for the program and spend at least an additional 240 hours guiding individuals through the difficult paperwork involved in a court case, all of it overseen and checked by paralegals and attorneys.
The Court's Deputy Executive Officer, Central Operations, Zoe Venhuizen '73, says the program has improved morale in her staff and decreased delays in court calendars because paperwork has been prepared properly. From 2009-2010, JusticeCorps members will have assisted 50,000 people, preventing evictions, decreasing domestic violence and providing stability for children involved in lengthy custody disputes.
Kathy O'Byrne, director of the UCLA Center for Community Learning, likens the adrenaline-pumping work to triage in an emergency room: "Being able to talk to someone and give them hope is what we're looking for in our students."
Find out more about how Bruins are making L.A. a better place through the JusticeCorps. Visit www.communitylearning.ucla.edu.