CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

New justice center in downtown Salt Lake providing legal to aid those who can’t afford a lawyer

Jun 23, 2023, 12:45 PM

The staff of the new James B. Lee Justice Center...

(Renee Leta/James B. Lee Justice Center)

(Renee Leta/James B. Lee Justice Center)

SALT LAKE CITY — In our country, there is an automatic right to an attorney in a criminal case. But what if you need help with a domestic violence situation, divorce, custody issue or access to health care or other benefits?

“As a society, we’ve decided that in civil cases, it is the nonprofits’ role to assist,” explained Adina Zahradnikova, executive director of the Disability Law Center. “The needs are huge and our goal is to bridge that gap and create equal justice for everyone.”

 

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The new justice center

This week, the new James B. Lee Justice Center opened in downtown Salt Lake City. The center represents a collaboration of three agencies: The Disability Law Center, Utah Legal Services and Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake.

“Access to justice in Utah happens under this roof,” Zahradnikova said. “A lot of people are able to get what they need because of our existence.”

How many people? Approximately 30,000 Utahns who do not have the money for a lawyer can access legal help there.

What kinds of legal issues?

It is a long and varied list. The new justice center will:

  1. help protect children and families from abuse
  2. secure immediate and long-term safety by attaining protective orders
  3. enforce the law that protects people with disabilities, ADA accessibility
  4. protect access to mental health and medical treatment
  5. help to preserve income and healthcare
  6. help low-income families with divorce, custody, child support and visitation
  7. help low-income seniors with guardianship defense, estate planning, and housing
  8. help Native Americans, migrant workers and other marginalized groups.

80,000 unmet legal needs

Without this center, thousands of Utahns “would not have representation, and many of them would lose their housing, access to food and income,” Zahradnikova explained. “There are about 80,000 unmet legal needs in our community. We have a lot of work to do. We need to breach that gap.”

85% of their clients at the three agencies in the Justice Center said they would not be able to afford legal help with their issues without these agencies.

The new James B. Lee Justice Center “will allow us to serve more Utahns,” Zahradnikova said. “With access to better technology, we’ll be able to serve more Utahns in rural communities, as well.”

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New justice center in downtown Salt Lake providing legal to aid those who can’t afford a lawyer