Fall 2014 Newsletter - BBA Pro Bono Spotlight: Brooke Court Service Center

By Sheriece M. Perry, Esq.

How do I file for divorce? My landlord is trying to evict me, what do I do? Who is the plaintiff and who is the defendant? What if I do not know where the other party lives now? Why does the petition ask about prior cases? How do I get custody of my granddaughter? Do I use my full name on all the forms? How much does it cost? Where do I go to file? When will my court date be? These questions and many more represent the questions the Brooke Court Service Center answers on a daily basis.

Any pro se litigant who comes to the Brooke Courthouse to file or respond to a court action likely has many questions. The paperwork and procedure are often shrouded in mystery. Such questions are further complicated for persons who are Limited English proficient, who have low literacy levels, or who have a combination of barriers that interfere with their ability to navigate the court framework. Supporters of court service centers believe if pro se litigants are empowered with information, they are able to move more efficiently through the process with a deeper understanding of how the court system functions. The effect – a more efficient court process, elimination of court clog, fluidity, management of expectations and satisfaction with the process, although not always the outcome.

A day at the Court Service Center reveals the diversity of cases that litigants bring to the Brooke Courthouse and the wide range of legal issues that each person has. On June 3, 2014, the Trial Court opened the doors of the Brooke Court Service Center, managed by Attorney Sheriece Perry to provide un-represented litigants with an opportunity to avail themselves of free resources, including but not limited to neutral legal information about court rules and procedure, one-on-one help filing out legal forms, direct referrals to appropriate legal and social service organizations, and access to self-help tools and computers.

Prior to the opening, Attorney Perry spent two and a half months working with Court Facilities and vendors to design the Center to be a space that was calm and inviting. Ms. Perry spent hours collaborating with legal and social services organizations, community liaisons, and local colleges and law schools to generate interest in the Brooke Court Service Center. Ms. Perry also spent time in the Brooke Courthouse, working with the Trial Court departments to identify the court’s needs and how the Court Service Center, could not only improve the assistance the litigants received, but also how the Court Service Center could impact the court operations in the clerk’s offices and courtroom sessions.

The Court Service Center enables pro se litigants to work with dedicated legal professionals who are invested in imparting practical knowledge about the court.  Litigants therefore leave the Court Service Center better able to move forward with their cases and effectively self-advocate in a system that, for many, is too often incomprehensible.  For those litigants, that lack the ability to self-advocate, the Court Service Center relies upon the collaborations with legal and social service agencies to ensure litigants do not leave feeling hopeless.

A walk through the Court Service Center reveals versatile furniture, resource materials, soft colored paint on the walls and paintings created by the Timilty Middle School students in Roxbury, MA.  The Court Service Center has an energetic group of volunteer attorneys, interns and law students on staff with varying language capacities, including Spanish, French, Cape Verdean Creole, Portuguese, German, Arabic, Urdu, Mandarin, and Korean.  The message the Court Service Center intends to convey to litigants and the Court is that the Court Service Center is here to help.

If you are interested in volunteering at the Brooke Court Service Center, feel free to email Sheriece M. Perry at sheriece.perry@jud.state.ma.us.

Sheriece M. Perry is the Manager of the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse Court Service Center.  Prior to starting her current position, Ms. Perry spent time as a private practitioner handling family law, probate law, and real estate law; and was a Staff Attorney at Volunteer Lawyers Project.  While at Volunteer Lawyers Project, Ms. Perry represented low income clients in family law and guardianship related matters.  She additionally provided training, mentoring and advice to pro bono attorneys and law students, and supervised court-based clinics at Suffolk Probate and Family Court on Tuesdays and Fridays. 

Ms. Perry has taught at Bunker Hill Community College as Adjunct Faculty and has led trainings at Lexington Insurance, Ropes & Gray, and Volunteer Lawyers Project.  She has also served as faculty and presented at the 1st and 2nd Legal Services Conferences, and the Probate and Family Court: Lawyer of the Day Trainings hosted by the Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education.  Ms. Perry is on the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association and Project Hip-Hop, a youth non-profit organization in Roxbury, MA, and is a member of the Massachusetts Black Women Attorneys.