Merced County Times Newspaper
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Featured Op/Ed — Law Library Or Passport Agency?

Patrons face challenges while seeking access to legal resources

Antoine Hubbard has been a patron of the Merced County Law Library for more than 15 years.
Antoine Hubbard has been a patron of the Merced County Law Library for more than 15 years.

By Antoine Hubbard Sr.

The Merced County Law Library is a hidden gem of the local community that goes unnoticed by residents until there’s a need to explore the legal system. Patrons such as myself — a longtime patron of 15 plus years — say the last 12 months have proven that I, as well as other patrons of the establishment, have been denied their due process of the law.

Prior to the pandemic, patrons like myself, received the best customer service from a small-but-wonderful competent staff. Those employees provided excellent access to resources for anyone who chose to do their own legal research in preparation for any type of litigation one may encounter, as well as to those in the local community that cannot afford to hire their own private attorney.

The toxicity we as patrons witness of staff relation is one that should not be tolerated. As a patron, I showed up daily for 15 years as I continue to assist in seeking justice for a wrongfully convicted young man, which has now essentially cost him an additional year of confinement as I chose to no longer be involved with a place that no longer seems to hold its value or standards to which it should always adhere to.

While realizing that the pandemic has taken a toll on all of us as individuals and as a community, it seems as though the Law Library was one of the establishments to which havoc was wreaked — from staffing to a lack of will to serve individuals. Personally, prior to the pandemic, going back to Spring of 2020, I never experienced anything short of excellent customer service from many of the staff working there in the past. To name a few: Susan, Twila Stout, Tisa Baker, Irene Cacho, Christina, and Elaine Wilson as the most recent staff member to whom still works at the library.

Unfortunately, as of last year, things took a turn for the worst. Patrons and residents (myself included), have witnessed drastic changes to which as a patron are detrimental to the needs of those seeking to find assistance with the legal system. It is mandated by law that every county shall provide a public law library to residents in which they can obtain and use for their own legal needs. Attorneys also have free rein to use the library as a place to do research as well as meet with patrons as I have witnessed in the past. It was a pleasure to oftentimes witness those working in the legal field inside of the Law Library — a feeling of closing a gap in the bridge between local patrons.

I surely miss running into those in the field of law, such as the Honorable and retired Appellate Judge Betty Dawson, and retired Honorable Judge Frank Dougherty, as well as local attorneys like LeAnne Rhodes, Brenda Panelle and Bill Davis, just to name a few.

Where did it go wrong?

That’s the question I have been asked more times than I would like to admit by those who know that I, myself, utilize the Law Library for all that it offers. In the months prior to Christmas 2021 and thus forth, myself amongst many other local patrons, witnessed tension between law library staff that could be cut with a knife, complaints from local deputies within the same shared building have been made regarding the level of noise, and what seemed to be “drama” amongst staff, and a lack of camaraderie that one would wish to think an establishment of such would uphold in valuing those who walk through the doors.

It seems as though priorities shifted, and while many in the community sought out legal access and resources, appropriate service has not been provided nor have issues been dealt with proactively from a patron standpoint. I witnessed, shift after shift, complaints about the board over the Law Library, to myself and amongst anyone who would listen, demands for pay increases, workers using employer time to benefit themselves, and all while you would think you were at a Woodstock concert when you made attempts to visit due to the noise.

Lastly, and what seems to worsen the concerns regarding the Law Library as a whole, it is now a Passport Facility. Concerned community members who have approached me on the subject are now left wondering if the Law part of the Library is even existent. Patrons are being pushed aside due to the overwhelming amounts of requests for passports in which the government is now profiting from. Is the entity seeking to merely benefit monetarily? It seems that the priority has shifted from all that it is supposed to provide to Merced County residents to merely an influx of quick money, leaving those who are truly in need to suffer.

In conclusion, it does not take a rocket scientist to run a law library. Or even the intellect of a fifth grader. However, it does take a bit of common sense, mixed with a slight amount of passion for serving others — from all walks of life.

My hope is that for those of us who utilize the services, and the access given by the Law Library, our voices are heard and change is made so that we can continue to not only seek out our own legal needs, but for those such as myself, can continue to be a voice for the voiceless and an advocate for the people — all people.

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