Bankruptcy help desk to assist self-represented debtors at federal courthouse

Staff Report

The bankruptcy bar of the Western Division is now operating a bankruptcy help desk at the Stanley J. Roszkowski Federal Courthouse, 327 S. Church St., Rockford, to assist pro se (self-represented) debtors for Chapter 7 cases.

Every year, approximately 200 to 270 bankruptcy petitions are filed by pro se debtors in the Western Division. Most of these cases seek relief under Chapter 7. Not surprisingly, many of these cases are troubled from the outset because of the petitioners’ lack of knowledge about bankruptcy basics.

Growing out of a discussion at the bankruptcy Town Hall Meeting held at the court in late 2013, an ad hoc committee of concerned members of the bar, representatives of Prairie State Legal Services and Northern Illinois University School of Law have been meeting with the court and the clerk to examine problems encountered by pro se filers and possible solutions. This effort led to a series of planning meetings to devise and implement a volunteer program.

More than a dozen volunteer attorneys have completed their orientation and are ready to begin meeting with debtors in a suite of rooms in the Stanley J. Roszkowski Federal Courthouse. Supporting the attorneys is an initial “class” of 19 volunteer paralegals who have completed the training program provided by the Bankruptcy Clerk. In addition, a group of “Rule 711” law students from Northern Illinois University will be joining the Help Desk early next year.

Initially, the program will serve pro se debtors who contemplate or have filed petitions for relief under Chapter 7 in the Western Division. Two volunteer attorneys and an equal number of paralegals/law students will staff the Help Desk one day each week. The service will be provided by appointment only, and Prairie State Legal Services, with the assistance of the Bankruptcy Clerk, will coordinate scheduling and provide information.

The program, the first of its kind in the Western Division, would not be possible without the leadership of Judge Thomas Lynch, his clerk and staff, and the support of volunteers, Prairie State, NIU, Rockford Career College, the District Court and its Clerk.

From the Dec. 24-30, 2014, issue

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