Part 1: Volunteer Katrina Hoch


Katrina Hoch is not your typical legal services volunteer. She isn’t a law student. She isn’t a lawyer. She isn’t a paralegal. Instead, in October 2009, she was awarded her Ph.D. in Communication and Media at UC San Diego. Yes, THAT San Diego, the one in California.

How long has she been working at the Greenville SCLS office?

At the time of the interview – about 1 week.

How did she end up at as a volunteer for legal services?

For that we need to delve into her dissertation entitled The Politics of Visibility: Transparency, Secrecy, and the United States Judiciary. Ok, we won’t delve too deeply; simply enough to know that she is interested in transparency in courts and the legal framework. From there it’s not difficult to imagine that transparency in the courts would lead to openness in the courts which leads to access to the courts with a natural end result being equal access to the courts – which leads us to legal services.

How did she make the jump from California to South Carolina?

Ah yes, that would be the spouse, a Clemson University professor who happens to be friends with the Greenville SCLS managing attorney, Kirby Mitchell.

What is she working on?

Some intakes. Some legal research.

What lessons has she learned from the experience?

Before doing some of the intakes, I don’t think I realized the difference between having money and not having money – in the legal field. It’s simply not the same for people without money. The people contacting SCLS have very complicated problems that are extremely difficult to address without an attorney. And their problems can multiply very quickly.

I have been very impressed with the speed in which the staff responds. Yesterday someone called SCLS about a hearing next Monday, and another called about a hearing next Wednesday. I submitted the information to the team and already this morning I learned that attorneys have been assigned.

It’s evident that lack of resources really hurts people. And of the calls we receive, most everyone sounds deserving of assistance.

Has she enjoyed her volunteer experience?

Even though it’s been a short while, it has already been a great experience. I would definitely encourage others to volunteer here.

And one of the most impressive things about her work at SCLS?

The attorneys and staff here have such broad knowledge of the issues; they are definitely working in a broad mix and not shoved into one specialty.

-RFW

Economy Impacts California Access to Justice

Budget cuts in California cause the state’s Judicial Council to decide to close the third Wednesday every month from September 2009 to June 2010, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times and confirmed by a press release from the California Courts.

While many of us in South Carolina may not tend to notice what happens in California (after all it’s on the “other” coast and several hours away by plane), this signals a tough time for us as well.  We look to California for trends; and for those of us in access to justice, we often rely on California for these trends. They provide the fertile classroom from which the rest of us glean ideas and then adapt them to fit our own state’s needs.

(Aside to the Other 49 States:  We learn from you as well and occasionally you learn from us, but c’mon, truthfully, don’t many of us look to California for ideas? Really?)

California has been a national leader in working with self-represented litigants (SRLs); creating a vast library of plain language forms, working on unbundled legal representation, and developing information in multiple languages. Additionally JusticeCorps has taken off in California, and has been successfully providing information to SRLs in five counties for some time.

California has offered bilingual court service for many years;  and information in many languages for a while as well.

And, according to the press release, the California Courts are the largest court system in the nation.

So how does this impact ACCESS TO JUSTICE?

By closing the courts one day per month, the third branch of government will close itself to its constituents. According to the LA Times, Chief Justice Ronald M. George noted that “the closures would result in delays in trials and more crowding in jails. Inmates who might have been released on the third Wednesday of the month will have to wait until the next day.” The hope is that the one-day closing will prevent additional closings.

California Courts – the nation’s courts are watching. We wish you the best!

-RFW

SC Appleseed in the NEWS!

Another SC Access to Justice Commissioner has news or should I say is IN the news today. Sue Berkowitz, the SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center Executive Director, was quoted in the prestigious Wall Street Journal.

Sue B - doing what she does best

The story? Numbers on Welfare See Sharp Increase. Excerpt from the story:

Twenty-three of the 30 largest states, which account for more than 88% of the nation’s total population, see welfare caseloads above year-ago levels, according to a survey conducted by The Wall Street Journal and the National Conference of State Legislatures. As more people run out of unemployment compensation, many are turning to welfare as a stopgap.

South Carolina is one of the “leading” states – in which welfare cases have increased from +10% to +30% over last year’s rates. Other states with sharp increases include California, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, OhioOregon, and Washington.

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On another note, we noted that the SC Appleseed Legal Justice website has a new look too. And we like it!

-RFW

Friday Wrap 5.29.09

All the week’s “atj” newsworthy items wrapped up

Friday Wrap Friday Wrap

Texas – Texas Access to Justice Commission and Foundation Recognize Major Contributors to Texas Legal Aid

Chicago, Illinois - ABA Invites Obama to it Annual Meeting

Washington, D.C. – 2nd ABA National Conference on Employment of Lawyers with Disabilities (Hurry for the EARLY BIRD special because after June 1st the registration increases)

United States Supreme Court – President Obama nominates Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the U.S. Supreme Court (For more news links, click here. For blog coverage, click here.)

Brooklyn, New York - A Call for Pro Bono at Boro Hall

Lexington, Kentucky – Interview with a True Change Agent

Nashville, Tennessee – New Legal Advice Clinic to Help with Debt Issues

Richmond, Virginia - LINC Recognizes Outstanding Volunteers

Public Justice Center – Donor Inspires Us with $10,000 Gift 

Ventura County, California – New County Program Helping Low-Income Families Adopt

 Winston-Salem, North Carolina – Practical Paralegalism: Paying it Forward

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – Credit Card Reforms Could Help Statements

Fairfield, Connecticut – Hard Times Force People Into Family Court “Solo”

Honolulu, Hawaii – Starn O’Toole Marcus & Fisher Supports Access to Justice Commission

Australia – Pro Bono Work Good for Law Students

New York, New York – Pro Bono Recruitment Drive

San Diego, California – Law Made Public: Legal Research Class for the Self-Represented Litigant

-RFW

Friday Wrap-Up 5.22.09

Here’s a Wrap-up of the week ending 5.22.09

I know this is mostly pointing folks to other sources for news, but as you can see, there are simply too many stories from the week to cover.

Thanks to my new law clerk Allie! She’s already jumping in with both feet.

Enjoy the stories below and have a safe holiday weekend!

Honolulu – City Awards almost $4 million for Homeless Services

LSC – Update enewsletter

South Carolina – SC Statehouse Report

New Brunswick – New Brunswick is facing Legal Aid cuts

Minneapolis – Best & Flanagan wins Pro Patria Award

Memphis – TBA President ready with plans

Washington D.C. – Bread for the City - Beyond Bread: The Human Rights Clinic

Texas – Texas Access to Justice Foundation 25th Anniversary (thanks State Bar of Texas Blog)

Australia

- Homeless Person’s Legal Service Forum (Robert McClelland)

- Pro Bono Initiative to Strengthen Rule of Law (Robert McClelland) – Lawyers Beyond Borders

The Legal Intelligencer/Law.com – Use ‘Pro Bono Networking’ to Market Yourself into a New Job

New Jersey – TRENTON: State courts closed Fridayand again in June

JD Supra: Legal Articles – The 4 Ps of the Internet: Personal, Private, Professional and Public

Michigan

- Mental health court serves public interest

- The South End – Law School fellowships provide students with work opportunities, tuition dollars

California – New California Law School Unveils its First Clinic

InHouse Insider – 2009 Best Legal Department: And the Winner is . . . (be sure to track all 3 “winners”)

Tolerance.org: Teaching Tolerance - Use This Summer for Social Justice

NPR: Lawyers Make Pro Bono Leap into Foreclosures (thanks to Mercy Politics for pointing us to this story)

-RFW

SRLs Rise as Economy Declines

No Surprise!

SRLs Rise as Economy Declines

This probably isn’t a surprise to many. But it is interesting that there are more articles about the phenomena.

For example, the New York Times recently featured a story about the rising number of Self-Represented Litigants (SRLs) entitled In a Downtown, More Act as Their Own Lawyers.”  The article noted the phenomena in multiple jurisdictions including  California, Illinois, New Hampshire, New York, and Texas. The NYTimes also notes that the phenomena is not limited to a specific court.

On Saturday, April 18, 2009, the Star-Telegram out of Texas, featured a story about the rise in SRLs specifically in Family Court in its article “For better or worse, fewer using divorce lawyers.”  ABC Channel 2 out of Wisconsin featured its own story, “Economy Affecting Divorces in Court.”

But the phenomena isn’t limited to state courts. Law.com featured its own article entitled “Federal Courts React to Tide of Pro Se Litigants.

Missing from the list of articles is SRLs in Bankruptcy Court. While there are no numbers, percentages, or stories, not to worry, the U.S. Courts website has a site dedicated to “Filing without an Attorney.” In South Carolina, click here. Both sites offer a video explanation as well.

It may not be a surprise but while there may be many people who want to proceed on their own, they are still advised to speak with an attorney, if possible. 

-RFW

Quetzaltepec Mixe in the courtroom?

At the past year’s ATJ public hearings, I learned  how pervasive the language-barrier can be in a courtroom.

South Carolina law mandates foreign-language interpreters in court proceedings. Spanish and American Sign Language interpreters were two of the most needed within the South Carolina court system.  Court interpreter certification, compensation and procedural mechanisms for obtaining a court interpreter are several of the issues that have been raised in working towards the goal of creating easy access to much-needed court interpreters.

Another issue that arises in the context of court interpreters is when a party to a proceeding does not speak English, it is useful to have multiple interpreters in the courtroom to ensure a fair proceeding.

The state of California also mandates foreign-language interpreters in courtroom proceedings.

California’s court interpreter assignment operation has over 100 languages represented by its interpreters.  The court has less stringent standards for more unusual languages, but this article I found in the L.A. Times illustrates the great lengths some CA courts have gone to in order to provide the appropriate interpreter to a litigant.

The article also does an excellent job of highlighting many problems faced by litigants who are not provided with the appropriate interpreter in courtroom proceedings. Not only are these litigants unable to articulate answers to questions and fully present their side of the story, but judges and attorneys can become impatient when litigants have problems answering simple questions, and court transcripts are usually only in English, so the potential for a miscarriage of justice because of a simple translation error increases.

Nonetheless, no case in CA has been thrown out because an interpreter was unable to be found.

While it is unlikely that a litigant in a South Carolina courtroom will need a Quetzaltepec Mixe interpreter anytime soon, SCATJ, in conjunction with court administration and other players have taken the need for courtroom interpreters seriously and have been working diligently to resolve many issues surrounding the provision of court interpreters.

-Alex

SC Ranks Between NY and CA

South Carolina Ranks 39th in Child Homelessness

According to the National Center on Family Homelessness State Report Card on Homelessness, South Carolina ranks 39th overall in Child Homelessness. The Center measured factors such as the extent of child homelessness (SC ranks 25), child well-being (SC ranks 35), risk for child homelessness (SC ranks 38) as well as state policy and planning.

In the national study, Connecticut ranked number 1 and Texas ranked last.

South Carolina ranked in the bottom half of the states overall, in between New York ranked at 38 and California ranked at 40.

In the 220 page report, the definition of homeless children is from birth to age 18 who are accompanied by one or more parents or caregivers. Runaways or throwaways are not included in the count.

~ Each year more than 1.5 million of our nation’s children become homeless ~

From the Report itself:

Extent of Child Homelessness: Counting homeless children is important because it helps us understand the scope of the problem, which drives planning and policy efforts. The percentage of homeless children identified in each state was used as one of the four domains in the Report Card. This was based on school data collected through a mandate of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.17

Child Well-Being: For the purposes of the Report Card, child well-being was determined by three factors: food security, health outcomes, and educational proficiency. Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Survey of Children’s Health, McKinney-Vento Academic Progress Reports, National School Lunch Program, and the National Assessment of Education Progress were used to create state scores on child well-being.

Risk for Child Homelessness: By creating an index of risk for each state based on generosity of benefits, household structure, housing market factors and extreme poverty, structural factors contributing to homelessness were included in the composite score. The index of  risk reflects the growing gap between rich and poor Americans and the decreasing number of households that can afford the increasing cost of housing. As their purchasing power has also decreased, millions of Americans must choose between housing and other basic necessities. With the current economic downturn and the staggering increase in housing foreclosures, more and more families are likely to become homeless.

Policy and Planning Efforts: This domain includes a state-by-state review of housing, income, education, and health policies and planning activities related to child homelessness. A total score was computed based on various efforts in these critical areas.

It’s an easy website to maneuver and well-worth your time to explore and use the interactive map and at least review the short reports on your own states. For the short South Carolina report, click here. For the long South Carolina report, click here. For the full report’s Executive Summary, click here. For the full report, click here.

-RFW

Unbundled/Limited Scope Rep picking up Traction

Information out of Downey, CA:

downey-ca-map2

On Friday, March 6, 2009, The Downey Patriot posted an article by Steve Lopez, an attorney licensed in California. Excerpts from the article:

With legal fees this high and unaffordable for some people it is not surprising that about 80 percent of people in California represent themselves in civil family law cases — such as divorce, custody and domestic violence cases — according to the Self-Represented Litigation Network. In San Diego alone, the number of divorce filings involving at least one person not represented by a lawyer rose from 46 percent in 1992 to 77 percent in 2000.

The result also leaves the Courts absolutely inundated with people who do not understand the procedures.

In an effort to protect people’s rights while keeping costs reasonable, unbundled or limited scope representation may offer a solution for some. Lopez addresses the need for communication, clear and direct communication between the client and the attorney.

The article is well worth reading, especially for us South Carolinians.

-RFW

South Carolina: 3rd highest unemployment in the USA

South Carolina Ranks 3rd in the Nation in Unemployment

Thanks so much to Technola for their post about this interactive unemployment map entitled “The Geography of a Recession.”

The national unemployment rate average in December 2008 was 7.1%, with a 2.3 increase in one year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, South Carolina’s rate was 9.5%, the third highest in the nation with Rhode Island with the highest jobless rates, 10.6% followed by Michigan at 10.0%. California was 4th with 9.3%; followed by Nevada, 9.1%; and Oregon at 9.0%.

Indiana and South Carolina recorded the largest over-the-month unemployment rate increases in December (+1.1 percentage points each).

As I looked at South Carolina’s unemployment highs, I noted that they are primarily in the “rural” areas AND they are “manufacturing centers” according to the map.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Manufacturing Sector refers to:

Plants, factories, or mills  engaged in the mechanical, physical, or chemical transformation of materials, substances, or components into new products. These industries include Food Manufacturing; Beverage and Tobacco Product Manufacturing; Textile Mills; Textile Product Mills; Apparel Manufacturing; Leather and Allied Product Manufacturing; Wood Product Manufacturing; Paper Manufacturing; Printing and Related Support Activities; Petroleum and Coal Products Manufacturing; Chemical Manufacturing; Plastics and Rubber Products Manufacturing; and more.

How is this related to Access to Justice?

As unemployment increases, income decreases. People are no longer covered by medical insurance. They can no longer afford their car payments or home mortgages. This may lead to stress in the marriage which leads to divorce. Sometimes (not always) the desperation to provide food and shelter may lead to an increase in crime.

These may seem like social justice issues, but there are legal implications. If people are unaware of their rights, they are more likely to be taken advantage of by unscrupulous business practices.

For instance, two days ago, the New York Times published an article entitled You’re Dead? That Won’t Stop the Debt Collector.  In the article, relatives of dead debtors are contacted and asked “if they want to settle the balance on a credit card or bank loan, or perhaps make that final utility bill or cellphone payment. The people on the other end of the line often have no legal obligation to assume the debt of a spouse, sibling or parent. But they take responsibility for it anyway.”

In the article, one unemployed man offers to pay $15 per month to settle his late mother-in-law’s credit card debt which he has no legal responsibility to do.

If they’re lucky, they’ll know to turn to attorneys for assistance, whether it’s South Carolina Legal Services or the SC Bar Pro Bono Program. Some may be able to proceed on their own, as self-represented litigants. But they will come in contact with the civil legal system.

That’s how the problem is related to Access to Justice. That’s why unemployment is an issue for all of us. That’s why we all need to help educate consumers and the general public about their civil legal rights.

-RFW