Students can get free legal help at U

Four hundred students received letters about illegal downloading.

Andy Steinke

University students aren’t unlike anyone else in the United States. They get sued. They get divorced. They get speeding tickets. They get arrested.

But unlike non-students, University students who pay student service fees can seek legal advice or counsel for reduced or no cost through the University.

on the web

To contact USLS, view its fees or to find out if you are eligible for representation, visit http://www1.umn.edu/usls

So what have students been asking University Student Legal Service about this semester?

Director Mark Karon said the department has been busy with the usual legal issues – tenant-landlord disputes, underage drinking citations and notarizing documents – but has been especially busy with two new problems.

Karon said there have been more cases involving identity theft than in the past, and concerns from students who started receiving settlement letters from the Recording Industry Association of America, dispersed by the University, this summer.

“We’ve had the RIAA cases, which have provided students with notifications that they are going to proceed against them for file sharing,” he said.

University Federal Relations coordinator Dan Gilchrist said the University has received more than 400 letters from the RIAA.

Karon said USLS has helped about a dozen students with settlements this semester.

Students who need legal advice for things like settlement letters can meet with a University staff attorney for a first appointment at no charge.

Other fees might then apply, depending on what services the student is looking to get from the attorney.

Despite the new problems, staff attorney Bob McCormick and Karon agreed that USLS has seen about the same number of students this semester as in semesters past.

“We handle a wide range of problems,” McCormick said, “a wide range of misdemeanors. That’s the first thing people think of when they hear ‘Student Legal Service.’ “

In addition to the RIAA settlement letters, McCormick said USLS is starting to see more alcohol- and party-related cases than in the past.

“Misdemeanors we are handling as usual, but there has been an increase of students dealing with underage drinking,” he said.

Students who receive citations from police for loud parties or underage drinking can avert the court system, McCormick said, if they go through a restorative justice program.

Restorative Justice Community Action is a Minneapolis-based group that allows offenders to attend a meeting about proper community behavior and complete community service.

McCormick said if offenders complete the program and have no new charges within the next year, the city won’t file charges against them for the citation they received.

Karon said the end of the fall semester is also frequently busy because some students are preparing to study abroad in the next semester.

“Students who are going to be studying abroad need power of attorney,” he said.

Power of attorney allows someone else to pay – in the student’s name – the student’s bills, taxes, rent, credit card and everything else while the student is abroad.

“It allows someone to serve in their place they are gone,” Karon said.