Alex Myers

Alex Myers of Myers & Associates will take over the legal advice column "Minding Your Business." He specializes in business law.

For many people, the notion of paying an attorney $500 or $1,000 for assistance with a small legal dispute can put the notion of hiring legal representation fully out of reach.

While paying an attorney is a common way to obtain representation and enforce or protect a person’s rights under the law, there are several resources available for low- to no-income individuals in need of assistance.

The first resource one might turn to is the Napa County Superior Court itself. For smaller cases, such as those between neighbors or contract disputes, in which the claimed damages do not exceed $10,000, Small Claims Court is often the best choice of venue.

Small Claims Court is located within the Napa County Superior Court, and offers an even playing field for all parties in a dispute. Attorneys are not permitted to represent parties in Small Claims Court, which prevents an individual without courtroom experience from the risk of facing a seasoned trial attorney representing the opposing side.

To get your case before the Small Claims Court, or into any civil court venue, there are documents that must be filed and service requirements that must be met. These procedures are often unfamiliar to individuals.

The Napa County Superior Court’s self-help and family law facilitator’s desk offers assistance in completing forms, answering questions regarding procedures, identifying appropriate procedures, and general guidance through the legal process.

Although the self-help desk and family law facilitator’s office does not give legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship, their guidance and the information they provide is often all a person needs to properly prepare and serve the basic documents required to start or defend against common lawsuits.

In filing with the court, there are also fees associated with filings. The Napa County Superior Court, and other courts, have the ability to waive filing fees that may otherwise be in the hundreds of dollars, for individuals with financial hardship.

The Judicial Branch of the State of California also offers significant resources online for individuals to research and prepare their cases, at courts.ca.gov/selfhelp.htm that may be accessed for free at the Napa County Library.

In some instances, self-help and small claims are inadequate for the nature of the dispute or the individual person’s specific situation.

In those cases, there is a nonprofit organization in Napa County that is specifically intended to offer assistance to individuals with income hardships or other hardship conditions that make access to justice otherwise difficult or impossible.

Bay Area Legal Aid, sometimes called BayLegal (formerly Legal Aid Napa Valley), provides low-income individuals with free civil legal assistance, which may include legal advice and legal representation. Their services range from consumer law to health care access.

The Napa County office of Bay Area Legal Aid is located at 575 Lincoln Avenue, Suite 210, Napa, CA 94559 or 707- 259-0579.

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Alex Myers is a business attorney with Myers & Associates in Napa. Reach him at alex@myers-associates.com or 707-257-1185. The information provided in this column is not intended as legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship. The information is not a comprehensive analysis of the law — if you need legal advice, contact an attorney.