CHICAGO – Gov. Pat Quinn signed a law Thursday allowing Illinois veterans and military members to qualify for free legal help, legislation that was pushed by Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride.
The law allows the state's highest court to establish a pilot program setting up a legal hotline and access to attorneys for court.
It was an unusual public appearance for Kilbride, who attended Thursday's event at a Chicago criminal court. He joked that it was his first bill signing since he's usually dealing with whether bills are constitutional.
"We've had so many people now coming into the court system who are not represented by lawyers. The numbers are just exploding," he later told The Associated Press. "We've got to find a way to better serve that community. There's no question about it that veterans deserve our respect, our honor and our help to provide assistance to them."
The money for the program will come from an increase in fees in civil cases and will be collected by clerks of circuit court for what's being called the Access to Justice Fund.
Quinn said service members have faced great obstacles in their line of duty and shouldn't have to do so at home.
The law takes effect immediately and will be up for renewal in 2017. Those involved will have to submit a report on its effectiveness by June 1 of that year.
Separately the measure also allows counties to use funds to fix up or create self-help legal centers at county libraries.
It will also create a task force that will take a look at legal fees in criminal and civil cases to ensure that they're fair. The panel will be made up of 15 members and they'll have to submit a final report to lawmakers by June 2014.
The bill is HB3111.
Illinois General Assembly: www.ilga.gov
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