Justice Court Navigator Projects in Hinds County, MS, and the Mississippi Delta
Justice Court in Mississippi is where the vast majority of civil cases affecting low to moderate income people occur. Thousands of adverse judgements for consumer debt, eviction, repossession, and money judgments are entered every year in Mississippi’s justice courts. These adverse judgments are more often than not against unrepresented, working, low to moderate income defendants. These pro se defendants face confusing processes with almost no information about their legal rights, yet the judgments imposed by these courts can have long-term consequences.
The Mississippi Center for Justice has developed the Justice Court Navigator Project to address the issue of unrepresented civil court litigants through the development and implementation of the Hinds County Justice Court Navigator Project. This is the first Navigator project in the State of Mississippi.
The program has law school and college students serving as Navigators for pro se individuals involved in civil cases. The Navigator’s role is to help the unrepresented litigants understand and navigate the Justice Court system. While careful not to “practice law” or provide legal advice, Navigators are able to explain basic details about court procedures, such as: how to initiate proceedings, how to respond to complaints, service of process, when to appear in court, and what to expect in hearings. The Navigator role is also to inform litigants of their right to bring documents necessary to present or defend a case and includes, advising litigants about their right to present witnesses and evidence, and cross-examine the witnesses presented by the opposition.
We have developed a thorough training manual that is coupled with an interactive training session for all Navigators. A mandatory requirement of justice court observation is another requirement before service in the program.
The services performed by the Navigators will impact several outcomes, ranging from the outcome of expanding litigants’ understanding of court processes and empowerment to present their side of the case, to providing more relevant information to the Court, and most importantly to real life outcomes such as eviction prevention and the successful resolution of consumer debt cases.
Over the next two years, we will add 5 new Navigator projects throughout the Mississippi Delta.