Guest Post from SC Center for Fathers and Families

This is a reprint of an article appearing in the SC Center for Fathers and Families enewsletter.

Civil contempt findings will no longer appear on SLED records 

The South Carolina Attorney General recently issued an opinion that civil contempt findings should not appear on South Carolina Law Enforcement criminal background checks. This opinion will have a favorable impact on non-custodial parents who have been found in civil contempt for failure to pay child support and have had the finding entered into their criminal record. Although civil contempt is not a crime, procedures at SLED did not allow these actions to be excluded from the records. The procedures for expungement only applied to criminal cases.

The Center for Fathers and Families has long advocated for changes in policies and practices that though well-intended created roadblocks for non-custodial parents, mostly fathers, being able to provide for their children. This practice of recording civil findings in a criminal background record was one such unnecessary barrier.

The Center had several concerns.

First, a criminal background is often a barrier to employment and because civil contempt findings appeared on the criminal background checks, employers viewed it as a criminal offense. Gaining and maintaining employment is critical to having the financial means to meet a child support obligation.

Second, only individuals who were found in contempt of non-payment of child support and were fingerprinted had the civil contempt entered into their criminal record.

Finally, the practice of fingerprinting individuals found in contempt and forwarding those records to SLED was inconsistently applied across the state. Because SC Legal Services shared these concerns, The Center and SC Legal Services partnered to address this growing problem.

A non-custodial parent, and in this case a mother, requested SC Legal Services’ assistance to have her more recent civil contempt for failure to pay child support removed from her SLED criminal record. Her criminal record included some criminal offenses, but these were very old and ironically were not hindering her employment chances as much as the recent incarceration for failure to pay child support. This case highlighted the problem of civil contempt on criminal records and its impact on individuals’ employment opportunities.

SC Legal Services submitted a written request to SLED for the removal of the civil contempt and the request was denied. SLED procedures were to record any offense that was a “fingerprintable” action and the expungement process could not be used because it was a civil, not  a criminal, action. However, because this case demonstrated the problem of civil contempt in individuals’ criminal records and the lack of internal procedures at SLED to address removal of civil contempt findings, SC Legal Services Lead Employment Attorney Jack Cohoon filed an Administrative Appeal to SLED’s Criminal History Administrative Appeal Board. SLED then requested an opinion from the Attorney General’s office concerning entering findings of civil contempt  into SLED criminal records.

The Attorney General’s opinion was issued on October 8, 2012. This opinion concluded that criminal records are maintained for criminal justice purposes. Since reporting civil contempt findings does not advance or relate to the enforcement of the criminal laws of South Carolina, these civil contempt findings are not criminal history and should not be entered into the State’s Criminal Information and Communication System nor in the federal NCIC ( National Crime Information Center) systems.

Because of this opinion, SLED will no longer enter civil contempt orders into the NCIC and state systems.

The Center is grateful to the partnership and support of SC Legal Services and for the favorable and fair opinion by the Attorney General.

The full opinion may be found  here.

Congratulations Jack Cohoon! 2011 Ellen Hines Smith Legal Services Attorney of the Year

Earlier today, Shannon Willis Scruggs, the Executive Director of the South Carolina Bar Foundation, and I made our annual surprise site visit to the South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) office where the Ellen Hines Smith Legal Services Attorney of the Year receives their surprise notice of the honor.

The 2011 recipient is Jack E. Cohoon, from the Columbia office.

Congratulations to Jack Cohoon! Pictured Left to Right: Eddie Weinberg, Jack Cohoon, Andrea Loney, Robin Wheeler. Photograph by Shannon Willis Scruggs.

Who is Jack E. Cohoon?

He has been employed in the Columbia SCLS office for more than 5 years. Jack serves as the lead employment attorney and provides guidance and case reviews of employment cases throughout the organization. But Jack’s caseload is not limited to employment; Jack also helps with evictions, housing, domestic violence, consumer protection, public benefits, education, and elder law.

Jack developed an expungement clinic protocol that includes a PowerPoint presentation, a brochure, and assistance with the SC Access to Justice Commission’s Expungement and Pardons FAQs.

What do co-workers say about Jack E. Cohoon?

“His polite demeanor and droll wit create a wonderful rapport between him and his clients.”

“Jack is a truly exceptional young attorney who has made a substantial statewide impact on the scope and effectiveness of SCLS’s representation to the benefit of all low income South Carolinians.”

“Jack’s work ethic is one of the best at SCLS. He is on the job and eager for work every day.”

“His calm, even demeanor has made him a favorite with attorneys within and outside of SCLS. Indeed, his glowing reputation extends to opposing counsel as well.”

“He is never temperamental and willingly accepts supervision, suggestions and criticism.”

From a client:

“. . .  Jack Cohoon did me a great service with the case that I brought to him. I don’t know that if I had had the money to pay a lawyer they could have done a better service for me.”

From the Workforce Investment Area re: expungement clinics:

“Jack was the perfect partner to work with. He exhibited compassion and patience that was very evident and sincere to the workshop attendees. Many stayed after the sessions to speak with him personally . . . He provided hope for some who felt they had exhausted every avenue. . . . Jack is a true treasure as he will always avail himself to help get information and services to the community. . . .  I appreciate the professionalism which Jack presents to a hurting and sometimes angry audience and look forward to the opportunity to work with him again.”

It’s easy to see why Jack is the recipient of this year’s Ellen Hines Smith Attorney of the Year award.

If you would like to see Jack receive the award, please join us at the South Carolina Bar Foundation Gala on Saturday, January 21, 2012 at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. The reception begins at 6:30 p.m. and dinner will be served at 7:30 p.m. Individual tickets are $100 and table sponsorships start at $1,200. Please contact Shannon Scruggs at shannon.scruggs@scbar.org or (803) 765-0517 for more information.

~RFW