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Self-Help Center Recognized with Freedom of Information Award

Posted: Friday, March 07, 2008

Susan Ledray and Katrina Zabinski, coordinators of the innovative  Minnesota Judicial Branch Virtual Self-Help Center and the Hennepin County Self-Help Center (SHC) in the Fourth Judicial District, have been named Honorable Mention recipients of the 2008 John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award by the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MnCOGI).   The award will be presented during a ceremony on Friday, March 14, at noon in the Pohlad Auditorium of the Minneapolis Central Library, located downtown at 300 Nicollet Mall.

Keynote speaker for the event, which will also kick off Sunshine Week 2008, will be Jane Kirtley, Director of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota.  Ledray and Zabinski will  demonstrate the Virtual Self-Help Center, which is available online at www.mncourts.gov/selfhelp.

Recipients of the 2008 John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award reflect the many facets of information access.  Ledray and Zabinski designed the service and used government information to define and meet the needs of the targeted population.  The nomination document notes that the Self-Help Center helps “thousands of pro se litigants in Minnesota to move through court more efficiently, more effectively and more informed.”  

“The work that they have done in creating the SHC is extremely impressive, a model for other courts to emulate,” said Mary Treacy, Executive Director of MnCOGI.

The Judicial Branch is currently installing public access computer workstations with printers in most courthouses that will provide access to the Virtual Self-Help Center, which includes email support available via a “Contact Us” link on the website.  Phone service that connects the user to a court support person is being phased in and is currently available at workstations in 57 counties.

The Virtual Self-Help Center provides legal information, court forms, lawyer referral resources, tutorials, and videos on various legal actions, including divorce, child support, child custody, landlord-tenant disputes, and car title issues. 

First Judicial District Judge Edward Lynch said in his letter nominating the center for the award that the service  “provides information, resources and assistance to thousands of litigants representing themselves in court proceedings.”

John R. Finnegan, Sr., for whom the award is named, is a Minnesota journalist and renowned defender of the

First Amendment and the role of informed citizens in a democracy.  The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information is a nonprofit corporation representing individuals and organizations committed to open access to public information.