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Legal center opens doors in Franklinton

Minutes after its grand opening ribbon-cutting ceremony, clients steadily streamed into the Legal Self Help Resource Center.

Located at 1005 Cleveland St., across from the Washington Parish Courthouse in Franklinton, the center was established by Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, in conjunction with 22nd Judicial District Court and United Way of Southeast Louisiana.

Paula Charles, managing attorney for Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, said the center won’t offer legal advice but added that it will direct people in the right direction.

“What we want to accomplish here is provide people legal information and the forms to help them represent themselves for simple legal issues,” Charles said. “We also want to be a resource center so when folks come in, we can be a central repository.”

Charles said it’s going to take some time to learn what peoples’ needs are.

“As we see the needs of folks, we will try and help provide those resources that are needed in Washington Parish. We’ll try and gather information and call around to help people.”

Charles said the center was something that was needed in the area.

“I do think it is needed,” Charles said. “I know the Clerk of Court’s Office keeps telling us people come there for forms all the time. The Clerk of Court can’t offer legal advice.”

Charles said it is imperative to teach people how to behave and dress properly when appearing in court before a judge.

“When you go to court, you can’t go in tank tops, flip flops or shorts. You have to dress appropriately,” Charles said. “Here, they don’t have to dress like they’re going to court, and we will provide information on how to dress appropriately and how to address the court.”

Charles said Sherry Seals will assist people in filling out protective orders and other pertinent papers. Seals is with Safe Harbor, a local office which battles domestic violence.

The center’s services are free. Clients will still have to pay filing fees, however.

Charles said she envisions the program expanding into the Washington Parish Library by early 2015.

United Way of Southeast Louisiana awarded Southeast Louisiana Legal Services a $1,250 grant Aug. 1 to help get the program started. With the funds, the center bought a laptop and laser printer.

“In collaboration with United Way to get this project off the ground were the 22nd Judicial District Court, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services and the Louisiana State Bar Association,” Charles said. “We’re so thankful to them all.”