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Chief Justice Emphasizes Need For Affordable Legal Services

Brent Dickson has served as the Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice since Randall Shepard's retirement in 2012.

In his annual State of the Judiciary address today, Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Dickson highlighted the results of a recent study looking at Hoosiers who don’t have access to affordable legal services, calling the data shocking.

Dickson says the court system completed a study two weeks ago looking at all civil lawsuits in Indiana for 2013.

About 63 percent of parties in those suits did not have a lawyer.

In family law cases alone, 60 percent of people went unrepresented.  Dickson says when people are in court without a lawyer, bad things happen.

“It places unrepresented litigants under a great disadvantage and is almost always detrimental to their interests,” he says. “It deprives judges from receiving all the information they need to make just and fair decisions and it clogs court dockets and delays justice for all court users.”

Dickson says part of the way to solve that problem is for Indiana lawyers to step up to the plate and provide more pro-bono services.

Another key part of his speech touched on technological advances the judicial branch needs to make.

Dickson said the judiciary needs to technologically link courts around Indiana, allowing them to share vital information with each other.

He says the judicial branch’s top priority hasn’t changed from last year: increasing the spread of what’s called Odyssey, a case management and data sharing system used in only about half of Indiana counties.

The problem is that judges in counties that don’t use Odyssey don’t have access to information about cases outside their own counties, which Dickson says can be especially troubling in juvenile cases.

“This means the judge may lack needed information because there may be a Child in Need of Services (a ‘CHINS’ case) or a delinquency case filed in other counties,” he says.

Dickson says, in the last year, the Indiana court system was able to link Odyssey with Quest, another large data management program used in many counties.

The Chief Justice says the courts are developing another application to link even more courts outside those systems.

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