|By Marty Wagner
Word is spreading about the arrival of Court Service Centers in the NH Judicial Branch Courts, but questions still abound regarding what they are, and why we need them at all.
For over 10 years, there has been a national movement to increase "Access to Justice" for all citizens using the courts. One very successful approach to responding to those needs nationally was the wide-spread use of Court Service Centers. The NH Probate Courts learned more about this movement and jumped onboard by opening its first Service Centers in Hillsborough and Rockingham Probate Courts in June 2007. Cindy Maggiacomo and Gina Rogers, the Service Center Coordinators, were charged with not only running those centers, but developing materials for use in the centers. Two more centers are also open now in Grafton and Coos Probate Courts where coverage is provided by Heather Poor who travels between the two locations.
This summer, Strafford County will open the first Superior Court Service Center using their case manager Kearston Crutchfield as their Service Center coordinator. Julie Howard, Clerk of Strafford Superior, says of the Center, "I can't say enough good things about having the Service Center, and about Kearston's help with our constituents. The Service Center is really a new approach to helping people here at the Court." She described Strafford's approach this way: "instead of figuring out what we can't or don't do, we figure out what we CAN do for people, and do it. This results in much greater satisfaction for users of the court, and greater satisfaction for Kearston and the staff. They feel like they are really able to help, which is why they got into this job in the first place."
Sharon Perreault at her desk
Also this month, Sharon Perreault began working as the new case manager for a statewide Service Center for the Family and District Courts where she will provide answers to inquiries by telephone and online. During 24 years with the court system, Sharon, has been clerk at Hooksett District Court, a court monitor, criminal case supervisor at Concord District and civil case supervisor in Nashua District Courts. Sharon's office is at Johnson Hall in Concord and she will be helping the public navigate through the court system by being available to answer their questions both by telephone and by e-mail.
"Having been a clerk of court, I know the best thing you can do is put people at ease," Sharon said. "They end up with a better feeling about what's happened to them. That's how I want to do it---to get people comfortable about how the court system works."
"I'm going to point them in the right direction," she said.
All Service Center Coordinators have extensive experience with relevant types of cases and are trained to provide assistance with completing court forms, answering any question asked, and helping to assure that the case will move smoothly through the court process. Their work is similar to work done at many counters in courts across the state, but with a couple important differences: their entire focus is on customer service either face to face or by telephone or email and is done in a separate, private area away from the hub-bub of the counter.
By assigning people to work just with the public and others who use the Service Centers, other staff members in the clerks or registers' offices can focus on case processing and good case flow within the courts. The Service Center users have consistently praised the Centers and the coordinators providing this service to "The courts are often a maze of confusing forms and procedures," said Probate Court Administrative Judge David King. "The Service Centers have proved to be a way to take service to the next level in our courts," he said.
Brigette Siff Holmes and Julie Howard also contributed to this article.