She calls herself a glorified Walmart greeter. It’s an understatement.
Armed with a clipboard, a pen and a copy of the day’s dockets, court worker Jeanie Adams positions herself in the middle of the main floor of the Red Deer Courthouse, where she can easily intercept people who may need a helping hand.
Her salary is covered by the Elizabeth Fry Society, which approached the Alberta Law Society for funding when members noted the large number of people being channelled through Red Deer provincial court’s main courtrooms on a regular basis.
The number of people milling around the front of the courtroom was becoming an organizational burden for duty counsel, the lawyer provided by the Legal Aid Society to advise people who are in the initial stages of the criminal court process.
“It was always congested and it looked like there was a need, so we got the funding to put a person out here,” says Adams.
While she cannot provide legal advice, she helps them negotiate the courthouse system and organizes a list of people who want duty counsel’s help.
She explains basic court processes, such as the order in which people are called and the length of time they can expect to wait for their turn before the judge.
She assures them that, once they’re on her list, they can relax outside the courtroom and wait for their turn.
“People get edgy sitting out here, because they’re scared or they’re impatient. My main role is to try to keep everything calm here and explain … what happens and why it’s taking so long.”
It’s not just about helping accused people, says Adams, who has years of experience as a parole officer and as a family court worker.
She seeks out people who could use a hand, including victims as well as the accused, along with family and friends of both.
New to Red Deer, Adams is compiling a catalogue of local services available to help people. Her goal is to set herself up as a front-line resource for everyone involved in the criminal court system, regardless of what brought them there.
“I’ve done this before in another jurisdiction. It was easy for me to do.”