Condensed and edited for clarity
Michelle Barclay: First, congratulations on winning Project of the Year from the Georgia Municipal Court Clerks Council (GMCCC) for the Municipal Court of Union City Community Resource Center! Tell us about the project.
Kristie Tucker: Thank you so much, we are very proud of this recognition. Before the pandemic hit in March 2020, we used to get frequent inquiries about landlord-tenant and divorce cases from our citizens who were not familiar with the legal process. Most of the time, we would direct them to another court, but you could tell that they felt defeated by calling around from agency to agency. When the pandemic hit, these types of calls increased.
My Judge [Municipal Court Chief Judge Ronald J. Freeman, Sr] and I discussed providing resources for people. It was clear that (1) people were unable to work, (2) they were afraid, and (3) they needed information about programs that had been established to help keep them from being evicted. I took on this project. I found an empty office and repurposed the space (with the support of my judge). I put in a couple of bookshelves, filled them with law books, and provided printed copies of all the necessary forms and instructions from various courts. I have experience from Superior and State Court, so I know the many questions people tend to ask when completing forms.
I thought this would be a great opportunity for local attorneys to provide pro bono assistance. So, I asked the judge if he knew of any lawyers who wanted to do some pro bono work. He did, and the Resource Center grew from there. Now, one Friday per month a volunteer attorney comes in-person or virtually to the Resource Center for 2 hours and offers 30-minute sessions to people who sign up in advance.
MB: How much did this cost?
Kristie Tucker: Very little. We literally ordered a couple of bookshelves. We already had a magazine holder and a table in the office. We moved the law books and printed forms from the various courts in the county and made them available to the visitors. The total cost was about $300.
MB: How many people have you served?
Kristie Tucker: We’ve served about 115-120 people between July-December 2021. During that period, we had people who needed forms, general guidance, books, or just direction on where to go to get things filed. We’re located on the bus line, so we have a lot of foot traffic by the Resource Center. People see it and tell others. We’ve also got pamphlets in there, too, like the 40-hour parent and teen driver training guide and other items of interest from other city departments.
MB: Wonderful. You are obviously a person passionate about improving justice in your community, what is your background?
Kristie Tucker: I graduated from South Carolina State University with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. I started teaching kindergarten as soon as I came home from college. Eventually, I got married, had my own children, and the burn-out came quickly. While being a stay-at-home mom, I began thinking that I needed a change.
Law School was in the back of my mind, but I had many excuses because of cost, time, and more. The next best thing for me was paralegal school, so I went to Clayton State and received my paralegal certification, but I knew I wanted more. At that point, I decided to get my master’s degree in human resources, thinking that would open more opportunities for me. After working for a law firm for some time, I was hired as the Legal Assistant to the Chief Administrative Officer for Fulton County Juvenile Court, and I loved it. That job gave me a whole new perspective on the judicial system. I eventually made my way to Rockdale County as Chief Deputy Clerk for Superior and State Court, then to the Recorders Court of Chatham County as the Court Administrator and Clerk of Court. I eventually made my way back to Atlanta and served as Clerk of Court for the City of East Point and I have now served Union City for almost 4 years. I love municipalities. I figured that out while in Savannah. I love the hands-on work and the day-to-day interaction with the people. It has been a rewarding career.
MB: Last question, do you have any good story as a result of your Resource Center?
Kristie Tucker: Absolutely. We have an Under 21 Program. We had a mother come to court with her son who had gotten in trouble for shoplifting. In court, we learned that the son was stealing to help his mom financially during the pandemic. When the Judge inquired if the mom was in a better place, she mentioned that she had come to our Resource Center to get the paperwork to stop her family from being evicted. Her landlord did not know about the moratorium, or he was not abiding by it. That day, Judge Freeman looked at me and I looked at him, and we had a little moment of insight that this effort is actually working. We helped one family that day, which makes all the effort worth it.