JusticeCorps interns staff county legal centers

  • December 8, 2008

CSUEB senior Duc Truong counsels clients at the Fremont Hall of Justice self-help legal center.Throughout the academic year, undergraduate and graduate students from across the Bay Area, including 10 CSUEB students, plan to devote 300 hours each to assist at self-help legal centers through participating in the JusticeCorps program.

"I wanted to get hands on experience, because I think that is the best way to learn," said Duc Truong, a senior political science major at CSUEB who has completed 50 volunteer hours.

JusticeCorps Bay Area began in fall 2006 after the success of a 2004 pilot program, the JusticeCorps AmeriCorps program in Los Angeles County, where 100 volunteers were trained. JusticeCorps Bay Area has recruited students from California State University, East Bay, San Francisco State University, San Jose State University, University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University. Approximately 75 college students were chosen to participate in the 2008-2009 program.

"This year and last year we've had CSUEB students, and they end up being our best members we recruit," said Carmen Franklin, assistant program coordinator.

CSUEB students were also the first to begin working at the new legal self-help center in Hayward. Starting in November, Hayward Hall of Justice merged the Family Law Facilitator's office and Self-Help Services to provide more comprehensive assistance to self-represented litigants in Alameda County.

"These (CSUEB) members will play an active role in increasing access to the justice system for Hayward residents who come to court without attorney representation," said Dan Siskind, JusticeCorps Bay Area Program Coordinator.

JusticeCorps volunteers work in centers based at the superior courts of Alameda, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties. The facilities serve individuals and families who come to court without professional representation. Students are exposed to legal matters involved in family law, small claims, housing and domestic violence cases. Students' daily activities may include providing litigants with legal information, completing legal paperwork, in-court assistance and translation.

"Many members can translate or help with Spanish, Tagalog, Mandarin, Chinese and ASL," said Jennifer Calbonero, a CSUEB senior who served with JusticeCorps last year and now works as the JusticeCorps University campus representative. "This makes a big difference to the litigants walking in, who are overwhelmed with the complexity of the court forms."

Jennifer Calbonero, left, a CSUEB senior who works as the JusticeCorps University campus representative, and Duc Truong take a break in the self-help legal center in Fremont.The self-help centers provide community members with answers to many of their questions and offers resources such as informational pamphlets with titles ranging from "What should I do if I am a crime victim?" to "What are my rights as an employee?"

JusticeCorps students also receive approximately 30 hours of training in interpreting legal language, legal ethics, professionalism, cultural competency, domestic violence and civic engagement.

Many of the interns who want to continue their education in law school take advantage of other opportunities the program offers, including shadowing Superior Court judicial officers, observing courtroom sessions and receiving letters of recommendation to law and graduate schools.

"The program is more formal than I thought it would be," said CSUEB volunteer Christal Seto, a senior, dressed in the JusticeCorps uniform consisting of a blue long-sleeved collared shirt with black slacks and black shoes. "You have to treat it like an internship."

Upon completion of the term, each member is given a $1,000 education award.

Looking back at her own experience, Calbonero said, "I really enjoyed the satisfaction of knowing that I made a difference to someone else's life and helped them through a situation that would have been much harder, had they not the self-help center to turn to."

Students interested in participating in next year's program should contact Dan Siskind at (510) 627-4988 beginning in February or visit http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/programs/justicecorps/.

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