... to the special consumer issue of Justice Matters. This edition contains a number of articles written with consumers in mind, as the Maryland Judiciary takes steps that better protect consumers from overzealous debt collectors and to ensure that the public is aware of free and low-cost legal resources available to those who need legal advice or who are looking for legal information. This online edition contains in-depth articles, multimedia tools and other links to help you make more informed legal decisions. As always, we invite your feedback on how to make this publication more useful and user-friendly. Send your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
More and more people are representing themselves in Maryland’s courts. These self-represented litigants are the newest “consumers” of court services. How can Maryland’s courts help people who may have little or no experience in court cases? Courts cannot provide legal advice, but they are trying to find ways to help people get the assistance they need.
The Maryland Judiciary has been moving forward with a project that will change the way our courts receive, send and keep forms, filings and case records. What does that mean for “consumers,” the citizens and residents of Maryland who use the courts? Better access, more options, and improved convenience.
Maryland Electronic Courts (MDEC, pronounced “Em-Deck”) is a single Judiciary-wide integrated case management system that will be used by all the courts in the state court system. Courts will collect, store, and process records electronically, and will be able to instantly access complete records as cases travel from District Court to Circuit Court and on to the appellate courts. The new system will ultimately become “paper-on-demand,” that is, paper records will be available when specifically asked for.
Access to justice is a critical consumer issue. Each year, the state's courts handle more than two million cases and Marylanders are appearing in court on their own, without a lawyer, in record numbers. Many Marylanders are forfeiting important rights because they do not have access to representation or because they face critical barriers in exercising their rights. These barriers can include language or literacy issues, challenges due to varying physical abilities or a lack of understanding of the civil justice system in Maryland and the resources available.
The Maryland Court of Appeals has adopted new rules changes that will require “debt buyers” to provide more proof before being allowed to obtain affidavit judgments against consumers to recover alleged debts. Debt buyers get affidavit judgments when the alleged debtor does not respond to the lawsuit. The amendments took effect January 1, and will apply only to actions started on or after Jan. 1, 2012.
Consumers may be able to avoid court if they get the right information and advice before entering a contract, or seek help before a problem becomes a lawsuit. Here are two valuable self-help resources:
The Maryland State Law Library is open to everyone seeking legal information, including those who wish to represent themselves in court. The library has self-help materials that explain legal issues and how to file a claim. Staff members at the information desk provide assistance in person, by telephone, by email, and through the online chat service available through the library’s website.
The District Court of Maryland, where debt collection cases are filed, has dismissed thousands of debt collection cases against Maryland consumers over the past 18 months.
“Our actions in dismissing these cases is another effort to respond to several issues in the debt collection industry, and put us at the forefront in responding to these issues,” said Chief Judge Ben C. Clyburn of the District Court of Maryland.
Also In This Issue:
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