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Access to Justice Through Mobile App On the Way

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Tom Ortega and Tiffany Graves at Brainstorming Session
Desare Frazier

Mississippians who can't afford an attorney for common legal matters maybe able to turn to a mobile app for help soon. MPB's Desare Frazier reports.

Members of Mississippi Access to Justice Commission are brainstorming what legal information should be included in a mobile app under development. Executive Director Tiffany Graves says there's one legal-aid attorney in the state for every 21,000 people. Many can't afford an attorney and struggle to navigate the legal system. She says the app won't provide legal advice, but it will offer information and forms for civil court proceedings like evictions, child custody and divorce cases. 

"Information about how to get to the courthouse. What to expect once you get there and what to expect generally from the types of proceedings that you're looking to handle," said Graves.

Handling the project is Thomas Ortega of Arizona, an award winning mobile app developer. He met Graves at a convention where she told him about the need for innovative legal services. Ortega is here at his own expense to create the tool, at no cost to the commission.

"I grew up in the ghetto, so I know poor people and I know what it's like to not be able to afford things and  if I have a talent that can help people better themselves then so be it," said Ortega.

Ortega says all he needs are the problems they want to solve with the mobile app and he'll handle the rest. Mississippi Court of Appeals Judge Donna Barnes wants it to be bilingual and provide access to lawyers to help people when they can.

"We have a lot of attorneys in Mississippi, more than willing to assist but it might be in small segments of time," said Barnes.

Tiffany Graves says the mobile app must be user friendly. They'll test it with legal-aid clients before they make it available to the public.