Magistrate Wizard

Michelle Barclay, Division Director, Communications, Children, Families and the Courts, spoke recently with Sharon Reiss, Executive Director, Council of Magistrate Court Judges.

MB:  Tell me about the Wizard.  What is it?
SR:  It is a tool that was developed by the Council of Magistrate Court Judges. The Council wanted to offer self-represented litigants a better way to access their courts so they are more prepared for court.  This tool is free to all members of the public so that the poorest members have equal standing in the magistrate courts.  It can be accessed anytime and from anywhere with internet access.  Magistrate courts are required to take anything that is filed, and we wanted to provide more consistency and uniformity within our courts.  The tool helps in that way because it also educates the public and the judges by interactively asking the user questions to develop the final form.

MB:  When did the Wizard start?   
SR:  It went live in August of 2014.  With the Wizard, we are trying to provide ease of use for our pro se litigants.  But it also appeals to lawyers who need to file forms in magistrate court.  Down the road, the Council thinks this will help us with E-filing. 
This is really called guiding filing.  We are the first ones in the entire nation to offer this for free to the public. As it is, our judges spend a good amount of time trying to figure out what a pro se litigant is trying to convey. That can take the form of a judge asking a multitude of questions or trying to decipher handwriting in order to determine whether money is owed or a contract has been broken or if a case can move forward. These forms streamline the process, allowing a pro se litigant’s case to move through the system efficiently.
In the future, the Council would like to do more forms, like for garnishments. But, we want to be careful that the forms do not provide so much guidance for filing that it could be construed as legal advice.
MB:  What are the most common forms on the Wizard?
SR:  We have developed the four most common forms (1) complaint (2) answer (3) dispossessory and (4) dispossessory answer.  These filings represent 70 percent to 80 percent of the cases filed.  The other forms we’ll have to do later.  
MB:  What has been the feedback on the Wizard?
SR:  Atlanta Legal Aid gave us kudos for it.  The Council was a very close to winning an innovation award at a legislative conference recently.   Our data shows we have over 7500 users with over 6915 documents assembled in Magistrate courts.  
MB:  Do you have any visuals for a reader/viewer to see how it works?
SR: Yes!  See the video below to get an idea for what person filing a form would see.  

Wizard Video

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