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State Bar of Michigan
Volume 6, Issue 4, March 2011

Committee on Justice Initiatives and Equal Access Initiative Disabilities Project

Disabilities Project Newsletter

A Simple Form That Enhances Equal Access
to the Courts
by Hon. Paul S. Teranes, Judge,
Wayne County Circuit Court (Retired)

One of the priorities of the State Bar of Michigan is to have equal access for all to the legal system regardless of gender, race, national origin, disability, or sexual orientation. There is a court form that directly addresses the issue of equal access for persons with disabilities in the Michigan court system. It is the Request for Accommodations, State Court Administrative Office Form MC 70 (MC 70). This uncomplicated, one-page form provides the means for persons with disabilities to request the accommodations necessary to obtain equal access to legal proceedings. MC 70 applies to any court matter, such as a court hearing, jury duty, or case evaluation, and applies to anyone involved in a court proceeding: an attorney representing a client, a litigant, or a witness. Unfortunately, MC 70 is little known and little used by members of the Bar.

Recently the Disabilities Work Group of the Equal Access Initiative of the State Bar of Michigan conducted a survey of attorneys with disabilities and attorneys who represented persons with disabilities. Part of the survey dealt with an attorney’s knowledge and use of MC 70. The Work Group was surprised and disappointed that only 21 percent of the attorneys who represented persons with disabilities were somewhat familiar with MC 70, and only 15 percent of the attorneys with disabilities were familiar with the form. This, despite the fact that MC 70 has been in use for over a decade, and there have been past efforts to inform the members of the Bar of this form. It is obvious that more information has to be disseminated concerning MC 70, beginning with this Newsletter.

MC 70 can be filled out online or by hand. The completed printed form should be sent to the court from which the accommodation is requested as far ahead of the court appearance as possible, so that the court can make the necessary arrangements to provide the accommodations requested.

Requests for accommodations to the Court of Appeals should be directed to the clerk of the Court of Appeals. View the court’s accommodations policy. Requests for accommodations for the Supreme Court should be directed to the clerk of the Supreme Court at the Michigan Hall of Justice, 925 W. Ottawa Street, Lansing, MI 48913; (517) 373-0130.

MC 70 is an easy-to-follow, one-page form. It requests the nature of the disability of the person requesting the accommodation. This may include physical mobility impairment requiring the use of a wheelchair, walker, crutches, etc.; a speech impairment; a visual impairment; deaf or hard of hearing impairment; cognitive impairment; or some other impairment. The form then asks for the type of accommodation requested.

Although the disability may be obvious, such as a client who uses a wheelchair or who is blind, the accommodation may vary from person to person. A good practice is for an attorney to take the client or witness to the court facilities, and have him or her determine what accommodations will be needed. For example, a longer time for a recess may be needed so that a person in a wheelchair can use a barrier-free restroom which may be some distance from the courtroom, or the assistance of a signer for a deaf client.

There are persons who do not have an obvious disability. An example is a diabetic who has to eat at regular intervals to maintain a level blood sugar, or a person who requires medication at regular intervals. An accommodation in those cases would be for the court to take breaks on a consistent basis to allow the person to take medication, or the diabetic person to have a snack or insulin injection.

It is important to submit MC 70 well before the court proceeding so that the court will have time to make arrangements for the accommodation. The State Court Administrative Office recently commented on MC 70 in a frequently asked questions document. They noted that many times the form is presented only on the day of the proceeding or shortly before. Unfortunately, it is often too late to make the requested accommodation with ease.

For example, if there is a request by a person with a mobility issue for a more accessible location, it is best to request it as soon as the person needing the accommodation or that person's attorney knows of the proposed matter and dates in question. Such requests are often accommodated by moving the proceedings to a nearby building which is already accessible, such as a library or a school. In addition, it is necessary to assemble the necessary equipment and personnel and to notify all affected parties and other persons of the change. If the request is made only on or just before the day of the proceeding, it may be difficult to accomplish all of these matters on such short notice.

Similarly, a person with a hearing impairment should request an interpreter or other accommodation as soon as possible, so that the appropriate personnel or devices can be found in a timely manner. While adjournments are always a possibility, courts are more likely to grant them if the person needing the accommodation made a timely request.

Sometimes a witness or a juror is asking for an accommodation that requires approval to testify or hear the case, as applicable, from a more accessible location than an elevated witness box or a confined jury box. Those requests take some time for the court to consider in light of all the competing interests that may be involved. Again, the likelihood of success is improved if the request is made as soon as possible. Most judges want to be reasonable, but it is hard for a judge to deal with these issues when litigants' motions and a variety of other pressing matters are being raised at the same time.

It is the obligation of an attorney to be sensitive to the needs of his client and witnesses and to know about the availability of MC 70 to request an accommodation for those needs.
 
View Request for Accommodations, MC 70

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