The Lawyers Education Advocacy Project (LEAP) is a Knoxville nonprofit whose mission is to provide pro bono legal advice and representation to children charged with truancy in Knox County and pro bono legal advice to their parents. In the fall of 2014, LEAP proposed making attorneys available in the lobby of the juvenile court building on days when the court heard truancy cases in order to offer free legal representation to students accused of truancy. LEAP also requested that its “know-your-rights” brochures be made available in the lobby, along with brochures offering other services to youth. Knox County initially denied LEAP’s request.
Truancy cases are prosecuted by the Knox County District Attorney General’s office and a young person found guilty can be placed on strict probation, fined, required to do community service, lose his or her driver’s license and even be placed in state custody. Under current Tennessee law such students are not entitled to an appointed attorney.
On January 27, 2015, the ACLU-TN sent a letter to the Knox County legal department explaining that prohibiting the LEAP lawyers access to the courthouse while allowing other nonprofits amounted to content-based discrimination, violating the group’s constitutional right to free speech.
After more than six months of negotiations, ACLU-TN secured a court order articulating LEAP’s right to offer pro bono legal services to young people charged with truancy and their families, to provide know-your-truancy-rights information, and to use courthouse space to meet with potential clients.
Court Order (August 11, 2015)
Letter to Knox County (January 27, 2015)