Dealing with Legal Matters

Sometimes we find ourselves in the middle of legal matters: Perhaps your landlord wants to evict you for unfair reasons. Or maybe the neighbor's dog is dangerous and threatening your child. You need to gain legal guardianship of a child. You have a traffic ticket you feel is unfair.

What do you do in these situations or others?

Get Information and Know Your Rights

Libraries often have legal information available. The Contra Costa College Library is a Self-Help Law Center for the Contra Costa Superior Court. This does not mean that the library staff offer legal advice, but it does mean that we have books and electronic resources which can provide you with legal information.

Here are some other sources:

Nolo Press Legal Self Help books are excellent resources. They are designed to inform you of your legal rights, possible actions you might take, and if you choose, how to address legal issues without hiring an attorney. We have a special section in the library with legal self-help books; some are reference and some may be checked out.

Every county in California has a public law library. The Contra Costa County Public Law Library is an excellent place to do in-depth research on legal matters. Their main library is located in Martinez, with a branch in Richmond at 100 37th Street, Room 237.

The Contra Costa Superior Court has a Web site (www.cc-courthelp.org) which provides information for Contra Costa County.

The California Courts have a self-help center (www.courtinfo.ca.gov/selfhelp/) which lists forms, how to get free or low-cost legal assistance, and more.

Covers from various Nolo Press books

Get Help

Sometimes it is useful or necessary to get legal help. Below are some ways to get free or inexpensive legal help before investing heavily in hiring an attorney:

  • Free Workshops: The Contra Costa County Lawyer Referral Service offers free workshops on a variety of topics including family law, landlord/tenant law, neighbor law, bankruptcy, and guardianship. The workshops are offered in public places in the community, including libraries. For more information, contact them at 925-370-2548.
  • Lawyer Referral Service: In every community the local Bar Association offers a Lawyer Referral Service. When you contact them, they will set up a half-hour appointment with a lawyer for a fee (approximately $30). This lawyer will help you decide if you need an attorney and if so will set you up with one who is expert in the area of law you need. For the Contra Costa County Lawyer Referral Service, call 925-825-5700 or go to their Web site at www.cccba.org.
The home page of Bay Area Legal Aid's Web site

Low-income Legal Services

There are a variety of services available to help low-income or special populations with legal services. One example is the Legal Aid Society (www.baylegal.org). To contact their Contra Costa County West office, call 510-250-5270.

You can ask a librarian for other ideas or check the yellow pages of the phonebook.

Getting Help if Your Legal Rights Are Violated

Perhaps you are a person of color and are pulled over and frisked frequently when you have done nothing wrong. Perhaps the police arrive at your house and search it with no search warrant. Perhaps you are arrested and physically or verbally abused or not told your right to remain silent or not given your phone call.

If any of the above or other similar things happen to you, there may be legal organizations willing to assist you with your legal case. One of these is the American Civil Liberties Union. They have a complaint telephone line open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. at 415-621-2488. Volunteer counselors staff the ACLU complaint desk. They are not lawyers but are trained to pre-screen phone calls. They cannot give legal advice to you, nor can they refer you to an individual private attorney. They can, however, bring your complaint to the attention of an attorney for review, or give you an appropriate referral to another agency.

Chapter 10 — Page 6