Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Poor litigants get legal help before state's highest courts - The Denver Post

Poor litigants get legal help before state's highest courts - The Denver Post

Tatanjia McNamara spent years fighting her way through Colorado courts trying to retain custody of her now 10-year-old daughter.

She and her husband divorced in 2004, and courts in Nebraska had granted him custody despite a contrary ruling in Colorado.

McNamara made her case to a Colorado District Court alone, without a lawyer. Then she represented herself at the state appellate level.

But facing the loss of her daughter and potential arrest on a Nebraska warrant, she finally sought the assistance of a pilot program that provides pro bono help to low-income litigants with civil cases at the appellate level or higher.

Last week, McNamara and her volunteer attorney celebrated a win before the state Supreme Court, the first victory at that level for the Colorado Bar Association's pro bono program, which is a year old this month.

"Ultimately, they decided in our favor. It really was a fantastic victory," said Anthony Viorst, the attorney on McNamara's case who also helped develop the program. "This case is a poster child for why we should do this. This woman would not have her child, and she might be in jail right now."

The program started as the brainchild of appellate court Judges Daniel Taubman and David Richman, who saw litigants representing themselves struggle with complex legal issues.

For criminal matters, indigent defendants get a state-paid public defender. In civil matters at the district court levels, indigent litigants can hope for help from legal aid programs.

Until last year, there was no assistance for low-income people trying complex cases before the state's appellate and Supreme courts, said Christina Gomez, who is chairwoman of the committee that screens applications.

So far, 27 people have asked for help and volunteer attorneys have taken on 10 cases, Gomez said.

"It's better for the client and the system generally to have that representation," she said. "There really was no outlet for seeking pro bono help in appeals in Colorado. It was really a kind of void we were able to fill."

The program accepts applications from people who make 125 percent of the federal poverty level or less, and handles cases involving property rights, contract disputes, family law, employment and others topics.

Cases involving prison discipline, election appeals, unemployment compensation and post-criminal-conviction relief are excluded.

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