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Self-Help Center to reopen by phone Thursday

Volunteer lawyers help with District, Family Court cases

After closing in mid-March due to the COVID-19 crisis, the Maui Self-Help Center is reopening by telephone, beginning Thursday, to provide legal information to people representing themselves in District and Family Court civil matters.

On Maui, telephone calls to 707-7153 will be answered by an AmeriCorps advocate, who will take initial information, then connect callers to a volunteer attorney.

Calls will be taken from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays, except for holidays.

“It’s critical for the community to have this opportunity, because legal problems do not stop — they don’t abide by quarantine provisions,” said Damir Kouliev, president of the Maui County Bar Association. “People are really hurting right now for legal information and to have their issues addressed.”

Callers who are representing themselves in District and Family Court cases can seek legal information on such matters as landlord-tenant disputes, collections, divorces, child custody and temporary restraining orders.

The Maui Self-Help Center is among court Self-Help Centers that are being reopened by telephone statewide, through efforts of the state Judiciary, Hawaii Access to Justice Commission, bar associations, AmeriCorps and the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii.

“It’s really exciting,” said Kouliev, who will be among volunteer attorneys taking calls Thursday. “I’m curious to see the dynamic between ‘clients’ and attorneys in this new remote venue.”

Even after normal court operations resume, Kouliev said the Maui Center may use the new system as a “fallback” when there’s a shortage of volunteer attorneys. He said some attorneys may find it more feasible to volunteer by phone.

“It is something that may help in the future on those days when in-person attorney volunteers are in scarce supply,” Kouliev said. “Remote services are the wave of the future, as we are seeing increasingly with telemedicine, for example. People are getting more and more comfortable with working with professionals in this capacity. So why not in law?”

Kouliev said he isn’t sure how busy the center will be when it reopens.

“The merits of this program speak for themselves, so we just need to get the word out,” he said, “It’s like that saying, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ ”

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.

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