Warren County residents have a new tool to help navigate Justice Court System

Published 3:04 pm Thursday, August 5, 2021

A new tool has been created to help “level the playing field” in the Justice Court System for Mississippi residents, especially for lower-income communities and people of color.

The Mississippi Center for Justice and Mississippi Access to Justice Commission announced Tuesday that they’ve partnered with Cambria Solutions of Sacramento, Calif. to produce a Virtual Court Navigator — a chatbot named “Lex” who will offer free legal advice. The MCJ and MAJC are non-profits working to advance racial and economic justice for those in Mississippi.

The VCN can answer questions, provide information that can be difficult to find and provide a better understanding of the court system, which can be hard to navigate. The VCN is focused on the Justice Court System, which handles civil cases of $3,500 or less, misdemeanor criminal cases and some traffic offenses.

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Warren County Prosecuting Attorney, Ken Harper, said this new tool will be very helpful to people, especially in Justice Court, as people often represent themselves in these matters.

“It is likely that they won’t hire a lawyer because the expense of that would outweigh the claim sometimes,” Harper said. “So this tells them how to get started.”

Harper said each county will vary slightly in some procedures, but not in laws, so this is a great starting point for people to use as a tool. He said, although the VCN can’t offer official legal advice, it can help with who to approach, what to wear and what to do next.

“With it being a state-wide thing, it has to be general,” Harper said. “Having said that, it does give some useful information on how to get started and how to do something.”

Harper said he has had hundreds of people call his office over the years wanting answers to these types of questions and asking if they need a lawyer to represent them in Justice Court. He said this will eliminate the need for that phone call that many people want to avoid, but it will still answer the questions that most people don’t know.

“It is factually accurate and helpful,” Harper said. “I think it’s a good idea. It’s certainly a helpful and useful tool for somebody to use.”

A statement issued by the MCJ stated the chatbot is meant to be a conversational tool to answer everyday questions and help residents who often find themselves without representation in this court system.

“Individuals facing garnishment and eviction rarely have lawyers to defend them, and they don’t know what to expect,” Beth Orlansky, Advocacy Director for the Mississippi Center for Justice said. “The goal of the project is to give confidence to people being sued for debt collection or foreclosure before they go to court.”

The chatbot “Lex” can be found at this link along with other useful videos and tools for navigating the Justice Court System.