Chattanooga Bar Association: 423-756-3222
Southeast Tennessee Legal Services: 423-756-0128
Legal Aid of East Tennessee: 423-756-4013
The Chattanooga Bar Association kicked off a public education outreach Monday for defendants in Sessions Court civil cases.
"We're here to give you some information on what the procedures are and what your options are," bar President Ira Long Jr. told a packed courtroom on the second floor of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Courts building downtown.
When Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judge Bob Moon introduced Long, about double the usual number of defendants were in court for Monday proceedings because courts were closed for Memorial Day last week.
"What you read about 99 percent of the time is on the other side of the building, the criminal side," Moon told the audience. "We have as much devastation when it comes to the saga of human breakdown on the civil side as the criminal side."
Moon and Long both said that the outreach grew out of the Tennessee Supreme Court's "Access to Justice" initiative, which seeks to better educate and service the public about the courts system.
Long said the outreach was one program that the bar and Southeast Tennessee Legal Services are working on. Access to free legal services and educational materials are some others, he said.
Shortly after the courtroom introductions, Pamela Davis stopped by a folding table in the hall to pick up information about finding a lawyer for her mother, who is fighting for unemployment benefits.
"A lot of people don't know you can get an attorney to help fight your legal battles," she said. "They'll just come to court without a lawyer and take whatever the other representation says. I think [the outreach] is a good thing."
Long said the bar plans to have staff at the second floor of the courthouse outside Sessions Court each Monday at 11 a.m. to help explain procedures to defendants and their options.
For instance, he said, few people know that a Sessions civil case can be appealed to Hamilton County Circuit Court.
"It can be really frustrating, you come here, you have a trial and you win," he said. "And then the other side says, I don't like it, taking it to Circuit Court, start all over again."
Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6347.