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Computer terminals positioned in Springfield to provide access to the legal system

This Legal Kiosk located at the offices of Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services in Springfield provides free access in English and Spanish to the online door of the courthouse.
Paul Tuthill
This Legal Kiosk located at the offices of Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services in Springfield provides free access in English and Spanish to the online door of the courthouse.

The "legal kiosks" are at 11 locations including some library branches

An initiative in Springfield, Massachusetts is aimed at closing the digital divide in the legal system.

A new program is making computer terminals available throughout Springfield for people to use for free to find a lawyer, access self-help legal resources, and at some locations attend remote court hearings.

These so-called legal kiosks are a project of the Western New England University School of Law’s Center for Social Justice with funding from the MassMutual Foundation.

Like a lot in society, the COVID-19 pandemic permanently moved much of the legal system online, making access only available to people with the means and resources to use technology said Ariel Clemmer, Director of the law school’s Center for Social Justice.

“That was the impetus for this project, the digital divide that disproportionately affects households of color and those of low and modest income, and so in an attempt to bridge the digital divide we developed this project to help people get greater access to the justice system,” she said.

There are 11 kiosks located throughout Springfield at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Family Services, Inc.; Western New England University School of Law library; New North Citizens' Council; Arise for Social Justice; United Way of Pioneer Valley; and Open Pantry Community Services; as well as at five Springfield city branch libraries – Brightwood, Forest Park, Indian Orchard, Mason Square, and the Library Express at Pine Point.

Starting this spring there will be a mobile kiosk, said Clemmer.

“It is going to be called ‘The Justice Bus’, which is a custom Mercedes van that will take these kiosks and move them around town to community events and other opportunities,” she said.

The MassMutual Foundation’s involvement is an outgrowth of an ongoing project with the Center for Social Justice to help people facing legal action over credit card debt, explained Dorothy Varon, lead corporate counsel for MassMutual.

“Because of COVID we became very interested in this access to technology and the idea of the kiosks,” she said.

Patricia Bernard, acting director at the Martin Luther King Jr Family Services, located in the historically-Black Mason Square area of Springfield, said the legal kiosk should prove to be a useful resource.

“There are a lot barriers to people in this neighborhood getting legal assistance,” she said. “People are scared for one thing, costs are prohibitive, basic transportation. There are a lot of roadblocks.”

At an event held Monday night at the MLK Community Center to announce the launch of the legal kiosks, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno praised the initiative.

“This is going to empower people of all creeds, colors and backgrounds,” he said.

The information available on the legal kiosks is in both English and Spanish.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.