Guns are in the news lately. The USA is a big country with a lot of guns, some of which are used to kill large numbers of people, generating news reports. Some are used in confrontations that become high-profile trials, generating more news reports.
From Newtown CT to Sanford FL, the headlines have driven debate about guns and gun violence. The debate in turn drives more headlines about guns – so guns are in the news. But in the USA, guns are always in the news. Although the Sandy Hook school shooting and the George Zimmerman trial make headlines, guns are used to commit crimes every day. Unless they’re murders, they are not the leadoff story on the evening news; they’re below the fold or buried deep in the daily paper. But they are there.
Debate about guns in the USA includes competing solutions, from “no guns!” to “more guns!” with many shades in between. Those arguments are beyond the scope of the court system – and of this blog. The court and criminal justice systems don’t set policy about guns or anything else. But they do deal with the consequences of gun violence.
Although courts can’t make policy based on the news or current public debate and opinion, they can implement procedures to better deal with current trends. When certain types of cases become common, the criminal justice system pays attention to them. The result can be new approaches to those types of cases, some of which don’t follow the typical “crime -> punishment” model.
This blog has noted several different kinds of courts that address specific types of crimes. These courts are not really separate courts; they’re separate divisions or departments of existing courts, with unique procedures matched to these specific cases. They are called “problem-solving courts” or “accountability courts” and they include Drug Courts, Family Dependency Treatment Courts, Mental Health Courts, and Veterans Courts. A common theme of these specialty courts is the recognition that drugs or alcohol or mental illness can be treated, and that such treatment may be more effective than incarceration in preventing future offenses. Another common theme is the active involvement of the judge in prescribing and monitoring the treatment, alongside the probation officers, counselors, educators, and other professionals involved in the program
Gun Courts are a newer type of problem-solving court, and they take a different approach. While drugs or alcohol can lead to crime, guns make the crime worse. While other types of problem-solving courts usually substitute treatment for incarceration, gun courts usually include incarceration, and may or may not include educational or counseling components. The difference is primarily between adult and juvenile gun courts. Adult gun courts mean quick trials (to get offenders off the streets as soon as possible) and severe sentences (to make it clear that use of guns to commit crimes carries serious consequences). Juvenile gun courts more closely resemble other types of problem-solving courts, because they use education and counseling in addition to punishment.
A good example of a juvenile gun court is found in Jefferson County, Alabama. Like other problem-solving courts, it’s a collaboration between the court, law enforcement, schools, counselors, probation, and the Department of Youth Services. Unlike other types of problem-solving courts – but in line with other gun courts – it always includes a form of incarceration. For less serious offenses, it’s called “boot camp” but it lasts 30 days. While the juvenile is required to attend boot camp and other classes about the dangers and consequences of guns, the parents are also required to attend classes.
Other gun courts may be found in Providence, RI (the first such court, created in 1994), Boston, MA, and Brooklyn, NY, and Detroit MI. Look for links to these and other types of problem-solving courts on CourtReference.
Tags: Alabama · Court Systems · Courtreference.com · Massachusetts · Michigan · New Sites · New York · News · Rhode Island
Last month’s blog article “How do you find the right attorney for your legal issue, your area, and your budget” (July 18, 2013) promoted the idea of using lawyer referral services offered by state and local Bar Associations. The ubiquity of the programs (more than 300 nationally) and the mission of matching legal consumers with unbiased, qualified referrals based upon specific legal needs is endorsed and governed by the American Bar Association. The referral services include pre-screening assistance, detailed educational and professional profiles, and assisted selection of appropriate counsel.
Whether you utilize a referral program or decide to find an attorney yourself, how do you navigate through the sea of online ads, legal directories and peer review sites to make your selection? There are multiple sources to confirm the background of a recommended attorney, or seek feedback about a prospective one.
Let’s look at the type of online resources available, starting with legal directories. There are nearly as many directory websites as lawyers, it seems! The most popular sites based upon recent ranking are Avvo.com, Findlaw.com, Justia.com, Lawyers.com, Martindale.com, and Nolo.com. These sites provide virtual snapshots of a lawyer’s background and experience, and can draw from a variety of sources, including academic, bar association, employer, peer, and client data, as well as news and public records information.
It is not the intention of this article to endorse a particular directory, but to advise the legal consumer that there are differences in the type of data and collection processes offered. Compare these and other sites for profile content, rating system (if available), peer and/or client feedback, member or consumer fees, and other criteria important to you (i.e., ease-of-use, geographic coverage).
Regarding profile content, some directories include all licensed attorneys, while others include only selected, nominated, or paying members. Avvo.com and Martindale.com provide professional rating systems, but their ratings are based upon different factors (years of practice, professional achievements, community recognition, disciplinary history, etc.). They also weight these factors differently; it is important to conduct your own “due diligence” by reviewing how these sites collect, compile, and rank their data.
Peer endorsements provided in legal directories can be compelling if supported by other professional accomplishments, particularly if they represent a diverse sampling of the legal community. Again, consult the website to determine how these endorsements are solicited and selected for inclusion, and what weight they carry (and if there is a limit to the number of peer recommendations displayed).
Similarly, client feedback can be very valuable. How balanced are the reviews in terms of positive and negative representation? Do the reviews appear “cherry-picked” or heavily edited? Does the feedback appear in the profile, or does it stand alone on the site? If the website reveals its editorial process for client reviews, and the site includes a rating system, do those reviews impact the allover score of the lawyer?
For fee-based legal directories, who pays? Many websites offer client “lead generation” services in exchange for a fee paid by member attorneys. There are hierarchies of listings as well on some sites; different rates apply for “priority” placement to attract prospective legal clients. Do not assume a more robust or prominent profile was randomly placed! It was likely paid for. There are, however, some sites that offer free listings of all licensed attorneys in a particular state or region.
In addition to directories, be sure to consult attorney and firm websites and blogs. Don’t discount a sole practitioner or small firm because their websites are not dazzling; content is more important than optics. There are many publications (hardcopy as well as online) that can be instructive; sources like Super Lawyers (which possesses a patented lawyer selection process!), state and national Law Journals, Bar Association monthlies, etc., all rank attorneys, typically by practice area, on an annual basis. Area news providers, including papers, city magazines, business, industry and topical journals frequently profile local legal talent.
And, back to my beloved state Bar Associations! Your local Bar Association can confirm an attorney’s eligibility to practice in that jurisdiction, educational background (including advanced legal degrees), and any disciplinary history, pending sanctions and/or suspensions. You can also request the names of members of the Bar’s practice area groups and authors of its CLE (Continuing Legal Education) publications to find recognized local experts on specific legal topics.
This article barely scratches the surface of utilizing the almost limitless resources available when seeking legal counsel. Surf the web, read the blogs, peruse the ads, study the profiles. There is a wealth of information at your fingertips!
For a list of lawyer referral services in your area to launch an attorney search, go to CourtReference.com and choose your state and county. Then select the category “Legal Aid and Lawyer Referral” to review available directories and referral services.
Tags: Free Legal Help · Uncategorized
Think back just a few years, and what events stand out in your memory? Some really big ones may jump out at you: the 2004 Indonesian tsunami; the 2011 Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident. A little more recent and closer to home: Hurricane Katrina, August 2005 (over 1800 dead, over $100 billion in damage). The Joplin, Missouri tornado, May 2011 (over 150 dead, nearly $3 billion).
But when you think about just last year in the United States, the number and frequency of natural disasters becomes more striking. The worst of 2012:
- Hurricane Isaac, August – AL, FL, LA, MS – storm surge, flooding, tornadoes: over $2 billion
- Hurricane Sandy, October – entire East Coast (24 states), especially NY and NJ – storm surge, flooding, wind – 73 dead, over $65 billion (second costliest in US history after Katrina)
- January tornado outbreak – 25 tornadoes in AR, IL, KY, MS, TN
- February Leap Day tornado outbreak – 42 tornadoes in AL, IL, IN, KS, KY, MO, NE, TN
- Early March tornado outbreak – 70 tornadoes in AL, GA, IL, IN, KY, MS, NC, OH, TN, WV
- Late March tornado outbreak – 63 tornadoes in AR, GA, IL, KS, KY, LA, MN, MO, MS, NC, NE, OH, OK, TX
- Mid-April tornado outbreak – 114 tornadoes in AR, IA, KS, MN, NE, OK, SD, TX
- Christmas tornadoes – 31 tornadoes in AL, LA, MS, NC, TX
- June derecho (fast-moving storms with damaging straight-line winds) – 28 dead, nearly $3 billion in DC, MD, NJ, OH, PA, VA, WV
- Oklahoma wildfires in August – 121 homes, 52,000 acres
- Colorado wildfires – 12 major fires, with Waldo Canyon being the most damaging, burning over 350 homes in Colorado Springs – while the High Park fire burned over 250 homes and 87,000 acres outside Fort Collins
Does it seem like everything is burning up, blowing down, or washing away yet? How about the new so far in 2013:
- Hattiesburg MS tornado (EF4) in Feb - 82 injured, $28 million
- Late May tornado outbreak in AR, IA, IL, KS, MI, MO, NE, NY, OK, PA, TX
- Moore OK tornado (EF5) in May 24 – dead, 377 injured, $2 billion
- El Reno OK tornado (EF5 again) in May – 8 dead, 114 injured, $40 million
- Colorado wildfires again – 7 major fires so far, with Black Forest being the most damaging, burning over 500 homes outside Colorado Springs (again), 14,280 acres, 2 dead.
Now think beyond the horrifying pictures and news reports, to the aftermath. Many people are injured, many more have lost much or all of what they had. Does insurance cover it? How long does it take to get insurance money? What kind of red tape must be dealt with to rebuild? Think you might need a lawyer to sort it out?
Because Colorado Springs was hit by devastating wildfires two years in a row (disclaimer: also because I used to live there), I’ll use it as an example.
After the Waldo Canyon fire in 2012, the city produced a Recovery Resource Guide that included information on demolition and rebuilding, consumer protection (because scam artists descended on the community), and dealing with insurance. Workshops were held by the Colorado Springs Homebuilders Association and Colorado Springs Together (an organization set up specifically to help fire victims) to help victims deal with insurance issues. Even so, a group of fire survivors organized under the name Catastrophic Insurance Complaints in Colorado Association to get the attention of politicians.
Fast forward to the 2013 Black Forest fire, with the Waldo Canyon fire fresh in the memory of local politicians and lawyers alike. Public meetings and assistance centers were set up while the fire was in progress. And the El Paso County Bar Association – already known for its Lawyer Referral Service, Pro Bono Project, and free legal clinics – had lawyers available at these assistance centers to answer questions. It also published a handout with instructions for making an insurance claim. Both the El Paso County and Denver Bar Associations set up special “ask-a-lawyer” programs for fire victims. And the Colorado Bar Association has a directory of Disaster Legal Services links.
Response to disasters isn’t limited to lawyers and politicians – or to Colorado, of course. But when the Red Cross and medical volunteers and food aid are no longer needed, the need for legal services may just be starting. Find contacts for you local bar association and other sources of legal help at CourtReference.
Tags: Colorado · Free Legal Help · News · states