Student Legal Services policy change proposed

If approved, SLS could represent students in landlord-tenant cases.
Dak Dillon / Graphic Designer

Missouri Students Association Senate Speaker Jonathan Mays co-authored a bill to expand Student Legal Services to represent students in court in February 2006. More than three years later, MSA is close to redefining the role of SLS.

Mays and MSA President Jordan Paul submitted a revised proposal to UM General Counsel Steve Owens last week for a new university lawyer who could represent students in landlord-tenant and debt-collection cases.

If Owens approves the proposal, he will take the idea to President Gary Forsee and the UM system Board of Curators.

"The General Counsel was uncomfortable with some of the details of our last proposal a few years ago," Paul said. "This one makes the lawyer's role more specific, and it appears Steve Owens is in support of it."

The change in SLS' role could take effect within a matter of months.

"We could see a university lawyer representing students as soon as next fall," Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Cathy Scroggs said.

Although SLS gives legal advice to MU students, it's not capable of representing them in a court of law. SLS' Web site states the program instead provides free services, including individual legal consultations, trainings regarding legal issues confronting college students and conflict resolution trainings.

MSA's proposal would give SLS the ability to represent students in certain cases.

"We chose to focus on landlord-tenant relations because a lot of abuse happens in those areas, particularly with security deposits," Paul said.

Legal representation from SLS wouldn't be free, but Scroggs said it will probably cost less than it would off campus.

"There will probably be some cost to students but not as much as it would be if they went downtown and found a lawyer," Scroggs said. "It's just more convenient for students."

MSA Senate also passed a bill Wednesday recommending state legislation that would require landlords to demonstrate the costs that lead them to withhold security deposits. Mays co-authored the bill along with Associated Students of the University of Missouri representative Pat Margherio.

"Our goal is for landlords to show tenants exactly why their security deposits are withheld," Mays said.

The bill states that about half of students visiting SLS for legal advice have legal problems related to their landlords and 40 percent of landlord-tenant issues SLS receives concern security deposits.

SLS Coordinator Steve Concannon declined to comment on the expansion of his department. Scroggs said the change the proposal would bring should allow SLS to further help students in need of legal assistance.

"Steve Concannon has a lot of students coming to him for legal help all the time and, although he can currently provide advice, he can't represent them," Scroggs said. "This will allow SLS to take student legal aide to another level."

Owens will be the one who decides the fate of the proposal. If he approves of MSA's suggestions, the Board of Curators may vote on the change to SLS at their next meeting in April.

Mays said the next step for MSA is to wait for a response from the university.

"Right now we're waiting to hear back from the University of Missouri system General Counsel on how to proceed from here," Mays said.

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