Law clinic helps those helping themselves


10th Judicial District Court Judge Jon Oldenburg sits in his office, located on the same floor as the Law Library that hosts the Lewistown Law Clinic.

Photo by Jenny Gessaman

The Lewistown Law Clinic was created in 2008 with a purpose: help people in civil cases who couldn’t afford an attorney. Almost a decade later, the clinic continues to help Central Montana.

Jon Oldenburg saw the program start under former 10th Judicial District Court Judge E. Wayne Phillips.

“At that time, there was a real need for pro se [self-representing] litigants to have a place to ask questions, fill out forms, things of that nature,” he said.

Judge Phillips asked local lawyers to volunteer their time to provide free legal advice. Now every member of the Central Montana Bar is in the rotation, and Oldenburg is the district judge. While he doesn’t promote the clinic, he does advise people that it’s there.

“What it really helps, from my perspective, is those people who self-represent,” he said. “Each lawyer will help folks answer questions and fill out forms. It really helps the entire system move better, be more accurate and do what we need to.”

There’s a range of issues that are considered civil, but Oldenburg said many involved in divorce turn to the clinic. He added many litigants also use the program to make sure they’re filling out forms correctly, saving time for the litigants and the court system.

“It really is a great program for the citizens,” he said. “I trust the lawyers. I know the level of knowledge and quality of practice of those volunteering for it.”

That includes the staff of the Fergus County Attorney’s Office. County Attorney Kent Sipe thinks the clinic’s especially valuable tool for people who aren’t familiar with the legal system.

“In order to research something on the internet, you have to have a starting point,” he said. “You have to have some knowledge on what you’re looking for.”

That, Sipe said, is exactly what the clinic volunteers help people find.

“The attorney will not appear for them, and they won’t be doing the person’s work for them,” he said. “It’s more of a guidance and an explanation of the process to give people some direction.”

Deputy County Attorney Jean Adams, another volunteer, chimed in.

“The attorney on duty would give information: these are the things you need to gather, these are the points you need to do and this is what you need to fill out.”

Justice of the Peace Kelly Mantooth, like Judge Oldenburg, lets people know the Lewistown Law Clinic is a resource, often daily.

“I would have to say a minimum of at least once, if not twice, a day,” he said.

And Mantooth believes the clinic’s a good resource, whether litigants are in the city or in the judicial district.

“I just want to thank the attorneys that do it,” he said. “It’s their own time that they’re spending, and it’s a very valuable resource that we have here in Central Montana.”

Involved in a civil suit?
If you’re looking some advice or direction on a civil legal matter, stop by the Lewistown Law Clinic. People are welcomed on a first come, first serve basis.

When: Every Wednesday

Where: Law Library, Fergus County Courthouse 3rd floor

What time: 8-9 a.m.



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