She didn’t intend to be late. She had the date on her calendar for months. Yet the day she’d been dreading slipped by. As a result, Gery (who asked that her last name not be used) failed to show for an appearance in Teller County Court on Aug. 29.
“I feel like an idiot,” she said.
Because she planned to represent herself in the case, Gery was referred to Lisa Younger Anderson, self-represented litigant coordinator, a long title for someone hired by the 4th Judicial District to help pro-se litigants.
“We all make mistakes; we’re human,” said Younger Anderson, honing in on Gery’s emotions.
Embarrassed and frightened, Gery explained why she intends to serve papers on her former landlord. “I was the tenant and I paid in advance through Aug. 15 and we were out of there by July 22,” she said. “My problem is that she re-rented the place July 24, so she should have refunded my money.”
While litigant coordinators cannot offer advice or recommend a particular lawyer, they can assist with the paperwork and explain the procedure and, in Gery’s case, seek approval for another court date.
“If she wasn’t able to rent it, of course, I wouldn’t expect my money back,” Gery said, adding that the total amount comes to $1,198.
After a chat with Judge Linda Billings-Vela, Younger Anderson explained what’s next for Gery. “The court wants you to show cause why you were tardy this week,” she said.
In another case, Mary (who asked that her name be changed for this story) is protesting a bill for $1,600 from Centura Health.
Mary claims she was forced by clinicians in Cripple Creek to be transported to the emergency room in Colorado Springs. As a result, she believes the bill is unfair.
“When I got to the hospital, I had no care whatsoever, no antibiotic, no chest x-ray - nothing,” she said.
On the other hand, the emergency-room physician did write a prescription for $500 worth of medication. For her, the cost was prohibitive.
The hospital turned the bill over to a collection agency which subsequently summoned her to court Aug. 29.
Younger Anderson’s role is to ease the process of paperwork and scheduling. “By filing an answer (to the summons), this gives you the opportunity to get before a judge,” Younger Anderson said. “You can state your case, Centura can state theirs and then we can move forward.”
Mary said she would prefer a decision by the judge as opposed to a trial by jury.
While protesting the emergency-room bill, Mary intends to pay the clinic costs of $354 as well as the filing fee of $92 for Younger Anderson’s assistance.
For people with limited English language skills, the program saves court time in El Paso and Teller counties. “The judges were a little frustrated because they would have to dismiss the case because people hadn’t filled out the forms, so there was a vicious cycle,” Younger Anderson said. “So the judge would ask them to re-file and pay additional money. Our mission is to help our customers to break down the barriers.”
Younger Anderson meets with Teller County litigants once a month. “I think the program is fantastic and well-needed,” she said. “Most often people don’t want to come inside a courthouse unless it’s for an adoption or a marriage. Our customers are so appreciative it’s so gratifying to us.”
The program started in January and encouraged by Teller County’s Court Clerk Janell Sciacca. “Since I took over the position, I have felt we needed a program like this,” she said.