The Multnomah Bar Foundation Launching CourtSupport
2020 is an exciting year for the Multnomah Bar Foundation (MBF). The MBF is celebrating its 15th anniversary and launching a new program, CourtSupport, in connection with the opening of the new Central Courthouse later this year. Through CourtSupport, the MBF will develop and fund projects designed to assist community members navigating Multnomah County courts. The MBF is particularly interested in projects promoting access to justice.
Thousands of community members access Multnomah County courts each week, often under stress and extremely difficult circumstances. Our court system is significantly underfunded, and simply has no ability to provide many services that would offer additional support and information to courthouse users. In an effort to address these issues, the MBF has worked closely with Presiding Judge Stephen Bushong and Trial Court Administrator Barbara Marcille to identify critical gaps in court funding that fall within the MBF’s mission.
The first issue identified by the court was the lack of funds for any staffing at the new Central Courthouse’s information desk. Those of you who have seen the drawings of the lobby in the new courthouse may be aware that a focal point of the lobby is a large information desk. Welcoming community members to a lobby with an abandoned information desk (and only sheriff ’s deputies in sight) is at odds with the aspirational vision of the new courthouse to enhance confidence in the justice system and provide a restorative human experience. Barbara Marcille recounted a trip she made to a newly built courthouse in Los Angeles that similarly had an information desk, but no one available to help people. The experience was extremely impactful for her and solidified her commitment to ensure a different result for Multnomah County.
The MBF has responded to this call to action and is working to raise funds for a CourtSupport Navigator in the new courthouse lobby. The CourtSupport Navigator will be responsible for serving the public entering the courthouse by directing individuals to departments and services within the court, answering basic questions about the court, and connecting individuals that need accommodations or extra assistance to resources within the court. The mission of the CourtSupport Navigator will be to make the entire process of entering and navigating the courthouse and legal system a little less intimidating. The MBF plans to again collaborate with Volunteers of America, its longtime partner in CourtCare, to help administer the project, and will prioritize coverage at the information desk during peak court hours.
The MBF looks forward to growing CourtSupport in the coming years as new funding gaps are identified in areas impacting access to justice and the quality and administration of the legal system. A particular area of interest for the MBF is identifying projects aimed at assisting self-represented litigants and supporting the new Legal Resource Center. Another area of interest is the potential for a courthouse canine program in Multnomah County. A growing number of courts, including Yamhill County, have courthouse service dogs. The animals are highly trained to provide emotional support to victims and witnesses, often children, caught in the extremely difficult and unpleasant procedures of the justice system. The MBF has been meeting with various stakeholders and is currently looking to identify a partner organization that can serve as the handler for the animal.
For many years, the MBF has sponsored Multnomah CourtCare, a program that provides free drop-in childcare for those attending court proceedings. In addition to CourtCare, the MBF also sponsors the CourtConnect program. CourtConnect pairs local lawyers with Multnomah County judges to give presentations to community organizations on procedural justice using the new Central Courthouse as a focal point. As with our existing programming, the MBF believes that CourtSupport will be an important avenue in assisting the MBF to fulfill its mission to promote civic education, increase the public’s understanding of the legal system, and improve the quality and administration of the legal system.
As I look forward to the year ahead, I would like to thank the MBF Board members I have served with over the past year: Nick Kampars, Mackenzie Hogan, Abby Wool Landon, Matt Donohue, Judge Xiomara Torres, Victoria Blachly, Sarah Bond, Jim Oliver, Jeanne Sinnott, Julie Vacura and Richard Vangelisti, as well as MBA Board liaisons Emilee Preble and Nellie Barnard. I’d also like to welcome incoming board members Elizabeth Knight, Marshal Spector and Joe Franco. Finally, I’d like to thank past MBF Presidents Nick Kampars and Matt Donohue for their leadership in developing CourtSupport. Only as the result of their efforts is the MBF in a position to launch this important new initiative.
The MBF’s ability to continue its existing work and to make CourtSupport a reality depends on the generosity of the local legal community. You can donate to the MBF at: www.mbabar.org/courtsupport. Please help us reach our programming goals and donate to the MBF today.
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