DC Court Navigator Program Helps Enhance Access to Justice

            To those without an attorney, navigating the court system can be challenging. Thankfully, the Court Navigator Program (CNP) can help. CNP staffmembers offer assistance to court visitors to help them effectively navigate both the Judiciary Square campus as well as court processes.  They offer help with understanding court processes - explaining what forms need to be filled out or offices visited in order to complete court business most efficiently -  and provide information to visitors on the various court services that are available and how to best access them. “Ten thousand people are in and out of DC Courts buildings every day and a significant number of them are self represented," says CNP Attorney Advisor Ron Scott.           

            With its current office adjacent to the lobby of Court Building B, the CNP window is the one of the first offices visitors to Small Claims and Landlord Tenant Branches (the two highest volume branches of DC Superior Court) encounter.  No matter what questions they may have about being at court, the CNP staff can help.

            The CNP helps navigate in three separate ways: physical navigation, service navigation, and process navigation. Physical navigation includes escorting individuals around Court Building B and providing directions around the court campus. Process navigation involves explaining how the case the individual is at the court for will flow through the system. The final form of navigation, service Navigation, involves providing information about court services and third party services that are intended to help court visitors, such as the Office of the Tenant Advocate .

           CNP staffmembers Chuck Burke and Ron Scott have both worked at DC Courts for years and are able to assist visitors who may need help to understand court forms, documents and orders.  Chuck Burke, CNP manager, has an extensive experience in the Family Court Social Services Division, so is familiar with providing assistance. Chuck played a key role in the Juvenile Drug Court Program, serving as the community liaison. Before starting at CNP, Chuck helped youth in the Juvenile Drug Court Program earn their high school general equivalency degrees (GEDs) to get themselves back on track. Chuck also worked in the Superior Court's Veterans Navigator Program, assisting veterans with court matters and helping them identify community resources.  Clearly, Chuck is familiar with serving the public and knows court programs well.

            Ron Scott helped develop the Fathering Court program, which helps fathers newly released from prison become meaningful parts of their children's lives, despite their previous absence. Ron used his background knowledge of court procedure as an attorney as well as his passion for launching new programs to help launch CNP.

            Though Chuck and Ron had different career paths, they share a common desire – to help people successfully navigate the DC courts, access justice and take advantage of available services. They both share a passion for helping people who may not feel empowered, may not have an attorney, or just may not be familiar with the court system.  Thus the CNP was a perfect fit for both of them. With different backgrounds, they can serve different niches that the CNP requires as well - Ron is able to answer questions with a more legal slant to them, and Chuck is able to de-escalate situations if those at the window are frustrated and having trouble maintaining their composure.

            CNP hosts regular “pop-ups,” special events where a guest speaker from another agency is brought in to provide more detailed information on a specific topic.  There have been several “pop-ups” with a representative from the Office of Tenant Advocate, who was able to answer specific and detailed questions about the rights of tenants.  There has also been a pop-up with a representative from the Department of Behavioral Health, who was able to provide those who stopped by with information on where to seek help for mental health concerns for themselves or their family members, and how to handle a situation that might be getting out of control.

          In tandem with the Department of Behavioral Health Pop Up, CNP also hosted a Mental Health Fair on October 25, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, for both employees and the public. The fair was designed to promote awareness to resources available to improve mental health, and included roughly 20 local organizations, ranging from nonprofits to gyms, all with the intention of raising awareness of mental health issues and available resources.

            Since its creation in October of 2018, the CNP office has steadily grown in popularity. In the past year, the CNP has assissted people with 4,115 different cases, on average they help approximately 89 people per day!  Of those people, 92% have said that if they need to return to the court for whatever reason, they would utilize CNP again.  Even with this tremendous success rate, Ron and Chuck are committed to improving the program every chance they get. In the past year the CNP Office has added a computer center and a resource kiosk to help litigants.