Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, August 12, 2022

Justice Bus reaches Chattanooga

The Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Bus now offers free legal services to clients in Chattanooga.

“The Justice Bus is a unique opportunity to bring legal services to people where they are,” says Savannah Quintero, pro bono coordinator with the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission. “We’re building partnerships in communities across the state, and we believe the bus will go a long way toward making legal services more accessible.”

The American Jobs Center in Chattanooga hosted a free legal clinic July 21. The Chattanooga Bar Association Young Lawyers Division provided criminal law assistance on expungement cases, while five clients received help with civil legal issues.

“These people were not incarcerated, they were on probation and looking to clean up their record in order to start a new job, start a new life,” says Mary Frances DeVoe, pro bono attorney at Legal Aid of East Tennessee in Chattanooga. “Providing someone with free legal services is always a delight, but when the person has a past – like we all do – and is trying to start over, it’s a little more rewarding.”

DeVoe is excited about what the future holds for the Justice Bus. One day, she hopes it will be staffed with a full-time attorney.

“I work in East Tennessee as an adviser for counties that are super rural, which makes it hard to bring urban resources to rural counties. Not to mention, part of what I run into in clinic coordination is finding places where you can host clinics and have access to free internet and free parking. A lot of people don’t have access to technology in this area.”

The following day, July 22, the Justice Bus visited the Murfreesboro Day Reporting and Community Resource Center for its job and resource fair. The Justice Bus provided general civil legal advice to 10 clients with issues ranging from expungement to family law.

“The Justice Bus is less intimidating for people who are on probation or parole, or for people who have had interactions with the criminal justice system,” says Sarah Gallagher, public information officer for the Tennessee Department of Corrections. “Some people aren’t comfortable walking into a courthouse. It’s a little intimidating. The Justice Bus provides neutral ground.”

Javaun Verge is a correctional counselor with TDOC. In her role, she assists clients who have criminal backgrounds with reentry into the community. This might include help with housing, employment, health care referrals, family assistance and retaining employment.

“I believe communication can get blurred, especially when you go from the courts to being on probation to being out in the community,” says Verge. “Without the Justice Bus, some people would not have the information they need.”

Verge visited the Justice Bus at a job fair in Smyrna a few weeks ago to ensure people in all parts of Rutherford County would have access to it. When it came to Murfreesboro, she was able to talk with clients about its impact.

”I spoke with a gentleman who drove over an hour to get services. Word is spreading fast that the Justice Bus is helping people,” says Verge.

The Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission publicly launched the Tennessee Justice Bus June 20. The vehicle is a passenger van outfitted with computers, tablets, a printer, internet access, video displays, Wi-Fi and other office supplies.

Recent Justice Bus events also include the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition Clinic in Nashville July 23 and an expungement clinic in Memphis July 30.

Trips to Sullivan, Knox and Obion counties are scheduled for August.

Source: Tennessee Supreme Court