(continued from p. 7)
On the heels of the successful launch of the DVD, Judge McEwen is spearheading two new projects designed to provide additional help to bankruptcy pro se filers: a bankruptcy clinic staffed by third-year Stetson University law students and a program where a rotation of volunteer lawyers will take on pro se clients for certain adversary proceedings and contested matters.
The clinical program, still in its development stages, will be coordinated by an adjunct professor and community lawyers will mentor Stetson University law students who will be handling the bankruptcy cases.
“The students would be representing low-income filers who have no attorney. [The prospective clients] would be screened through Bay Area Legal Services, and if they meet the criteria for a lawyer they can get assistance,” McEwen said.
The voluntary lawyer program is a replication of a program administered by the Eastern District of Michigan’s bankruptcy court, where lawyers from a list of volunteers would be assigned to pro se filers, McEwen said.
Specifically, the program would primarily help pro se filers in dischargeability law suits, which are more difficult to navigate than general bankruptcy cases.
Without legal assistance, McEwen likened a pro se filer handling an adversary proceeding on his own to starting a race 50 yards behind the starting line.
Help from a volunteer lawyer, “would help the debtor and also the court,” McEwen said. “Those cases are time consuming.”
Pro se filers involved in contested matter litigation on homestead exemptions would also be eligible for legal assistance from a volunteer lawyer.
The program also creates an opportunity for young lawyers to get trial time, something that doesn’t happen often enough, McEwen said. “This is a time for them to be first chair. It will give them a chance to enhance their advocacy skills on a faster pace.”
Just recently, the voluntary lawyer program was unanimously approved by all of the judges who preside in the bankruptcy court in the Middle District of Florida and will begin soon.