The Federal Pro Se Legal Assistance Project Continues to Operate Remotely but Will Reopen Its Brooklyn Doors Soon
by Jean Soo Park November 2, 2021
Jean Soo Park directs the City Bar Justice Center’s Federal Pro Se Legal Assistance Project.
Together with my colleague Jeffrey Núñez, project coordinator of the Federal Pro Se Legal Assistance Project (Fed Pro), I recently visited our office in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in downtown Brooklyn to begin plans to re-open. It wasn’t just my first time there as Fed Pro’s new director – it was the first time any staff member had visited the office since the pandemic closed in-person operations in March 2020. It was also Jeffrey’s and my first time seeing the office after starting our new roles with Fed Pro in August 2021. Every calendar in the office displayed March 2020, taking us back to the early days when the COVID-19 pandemic overwhelmed our city. It was like time had stood still in the office, even though so much has changed and continues to evolve as we adapt to a different kind of “normal.”
When the pandemic hit New York City, Fed Pro shifted its operations to work remotely and continued to conduct pro se (i.e., self-represented) litigant intakes and provide free, brief legal advice to pro se plaintiffs and defendants with cases in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn. From March 2020 to today, Fed Pro has deployed a variety of virtual office platforms to serve over 200 pro se litigants in need of legal assistance.
In response to the March 2020 declaration of a national emergency due to COVID-19, the Court also has continually modified its operations, conducting civil status conferences and hearing arguments by telephone or video conference. As conditions during the pandemic improved, the Court gradually re-opened to the public and began to hold in-person jury trials. The Court continues to be diligent in deciding how to fully re-open, following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the advice of the Court’s epidemiologist.
With that, Fed Pro has been thinking about how to re-open its office to serve pro se litigants in person while maintaining COVID-19 protections and protocols. While communication by phone provides quicker contact with litigants and protects them from exposure to COVID-19 by not having to travel, we recognize that in-person interaction is important. We understand that some litigants would benefit from having a face-to-face conversation to discuss their case. Some may need help reviewing or preparing documents to file, while others may need to see a “roadmap” of the litigation process. Other litigants may benefit from accessing the Court’s case portal (Pacer) and a computer with word processing. Fed Pro’s volunteers are also excited to come to the office and apply their legal skills to assist pro se litigants.
In the meantime, Fed Pro continues to conduct client intake and schedule phone appointments. For assistance, Eastern District litigants may use this link on a phone or computer to complete an online intake and limited scope retainer, after which Fed Pro staff generally make contact with the applicant within three to five business days. Alternatively, litigants may call 212.382.4729 and leave a message, though getting a response may take longer than completing an online intake.
Other resources for pro se litigants remain available as well. The Pro Se Clerk’s Office in the Eastern District’s downtown Brooklyn courthouse is open to receive new case and other filings Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., and then from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. There is also a 24-hour drop box at the courthouse security desk, where litigants can file papers and get their own time-stamped copy.
The Pro Se Clerk’s Office also recently created an online portal for litigants to send documents including amended complaints, motions and responses to motions, and other applications: https://www.nyed.uscourts.gov/content/pro-se-electronic-document-submission-during-covid-19-pandemic. (Note: this portal will NOT accept filings to start a new case, which must be done either by U.S. mail or in person. Litigants should follow the judge’s individual rules for filing and upload their submissions as early as possible.)
While Fed Pro continues to operate remotely, we look forward to sharing more news on our re-opening and return to the Brooklyn office. Stay tuned for more information on our website . . . . the lights are coming back on soon!
This communication is for the general education and knowledge of our readers. Because all legal problems involve their own specific set of facts, this informational resource is not and should not be used as a substitute for independent legal advice. This informational resource also is not intended to create, and its receipt does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Please contact competent, independent legal counsel for an assessment of your particular legal concerns, or contact our Legal Hotline (212.626.7383 or https://www.citybarjusticecenter.org/legal-hotline/) to determine whether you qualify for assistance from the City Bar Justice Center.
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