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.

LSC President Sandman Discusses Pro Bono

In case you missed it elsewhere, LSC President Sandman discusses pro bono and its importance to legal services programs.

He also discusses the limitations of legal services organizations and the great value of law firm and corporate pro bono participation. Well worth watching!

Tip of the hat to Cheryl Zalenski at the ABA Center for Pro Bono who tweeted this. Thanks for the heads-up.

-RFW

Report of the Task Force on State Courts and the Elderly Released

Today the Supreme Court of South Carolina released the Report of the Task Force on State Courts and the Elderly.

It is well worth reading, if only to note how South Carolina demographics have changed over the years and to see predictions for our future.

Well done!

-RFW

Part 3: Alex Paterra

Alex Paterra

Alex Paterra isn’t a native South Carolinian, but that hasn’t stopped him from jumping right in to assist South Carolinians in need.

Alex graduated from the University of Dayton School of Law and started practicing law in 2005. He is a solo practitioner and recently grabbed an opportunity to help people in need while keeping his lights on via the Private Attorney Involvement (PAI) program with SCLS.

Originally Alex envisioned his legal career beginning at the public defender’s office, however, his path led him into private practice with two law firms, but with the downturn in the economy, he chose to start his own firm. His work at SCLS began by volunteering to take their employment cases. He had 5 years of Labor and Employment experience and knew he could help out. Once he had started volunteering, he noted that there was an opportunity for him to assist even more people working as a PAI attorney.

Since November 2009, he has taken on roughly 7 employment cases.

Has this work changed his vision of legal services?

Not really. I had previously volunteered at other legal service entities and consider pro bono a necessity for so many people who can’t even make ends meet.

What should practitioners know about your experience?

Major law firms should donate first year associates to their local legal services’ entity. It is of GREAT benefit to the firm. The associate gets a MUCH quicker immersion into law and learns some great basic skills such as:

  • Quick decision-making;
  • Learning how to distinguish successful cases via a smell-test;
  • Team-building and learning to bounce ideas off each other;

The associates would gain practical, courtroom experience in a more relaxed environment. The associates should be volunteers for a minimum of 6 months to 1 year. Any help is good, but one year of service translates into a great volunteer – for life.

-RFW

Who is this man?

Meet Bradley Ridlehoover.

Why is he important?

Because as of this summer, he has been working as a deferred associate at South Carolina Legal Services in Greenville in their Low Income Taxpayer Clinics area.

So how did he end up there?

Well, he started out in the Piedmont area, with an interest in law. Enter tax law. He went on to get his LLM (Master of Laws) in tax and was set to start work at Kilpatrick Stockton LLP. About that time, he was deferred and held some adjunct teaching positions, but then met up with some Greenville SCLS staff attorneys and before long, he was working in the office there.

When I spoke with Brad, he mentioned that he has enjoyed his work at SCLS. He is especially pleased that he was given such a broad exposure to the legal issues that so many people face. He has had client interaction from the start and has really enjoyed working with his SCLS colleagues.

His biggest eye-opener?

The fact that so many of his clients don’t know how to advocate for themselves. Many of the people coming in with tax problems don’t understand that they need to respond to the demand letters. They don’t know the next step. They can’t do this on their own and they can’t afford to hire anyone. Many times they’re victims of predatory lending and have a lot of personal debt with huge interest rates. They are stuck until they reach out to us for help. They are good hard-working people who are stuck and often we can help them resolve the issue quickly.

His Takeaway?

If you are an attorney just starting out and even if you’re not interested in working for legal services on a permanent basis, this is still a great place to get pro bono experience or to volunteer.

  1. It is rewarding.
  2. You get good practice drafting.
  3. You have fabulous opportunities for trial experience.
  4. And the clients are wonderful.

Plus it’s a great place to give back to the community.

What changes would he make to his experience at SCLS?

More time. More time to expand to other legal issues. He focused on tax because of the need, but legal services is a great place to learn so many areas of the law. It’s a great place to learn to be a generalist.

As we spoke it was obvious he had tremendous respect for the attorneys he worked with – “they are experts in so many areas but also practice in such a broad range.” They have to be – so much of what they do covers so much of the law – tax law, family law and benefits.

If he could change SCLS, what would he change?

I’d raise awareness about SCLS. It’s a great community resource. And the staff are motivated, interested individuals who want to be a part of this community. They do great work.

And his final words?

I’m a better lawyer because of this experience.

And we appreciate that. Thanks Brad!

-RFW

5 States Receive ProBono.Net Award

What do Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Minnesota, and New York have in common?

Sounds like the start of a joke, but it’s not. If it were, they would be laughing all the way to the bank.

Instead ProBono.Net has awarded these five states’ legal services organizations developing innovative online document assembly projects through its NPADO Demonstration Project.  The projects address legal issues including foreclosure, criminal expungement and the needs of the Spanish-speaking community.

To read more, click here.

Congratulations!

-RFW

Legal Services = Basic Needs

Extra! Extra! Read All About it!

Extra! Extra! Read All About it!

Earlier today the United Way of the Midlands released their Community-Needs Assessment Report online at http://uway.org/facing_facts/.

While the report is specific to Richland and Lexington Counties, the issues highlighted in the report may be universal for people living in poverty. According to the report:

Many households in our community daily struggle to pay for housing, utilities, food, clothing and legal help.

While many of us recognize shelter and food as basic necessities, we may not associate legal help as one. And, that’s the legal community’s fault for not publicizing this fact.

For people living in poverty, legal services is often their lifeline. As I note often, as a general rule (there are always exceptions), people do not seek legal assistance when all is going well.

  • In the criminal justice arena someone is either the victim of a crime or is accused of perpetrating the crime.
  • In civil legal services, it’s very similar. Someone has been wronged or someone receives a complaint for wrongdoing. This can be contractual – landlord/tenant, debt repayment/collections, utilities, etc. It can be in other forms – divorce, child support, child custody, government benefits, etc.

For those of us working in civil legal services, this is second-nature.

And we’re glad that others now recognize it.

Thanks to United Way of the Midlands for collecting this data and publishing the report!

-RFW

Domestic Violence—Access to Legal Assistance

            Robin gave me some of the information she received at the recent Equal Justice Conference in Orlando.  A handout from the ABA Commission on Domestic Violence immediately stood out to me.  They are creating a National Domestic Violence Pro Bono Legal Service Provider Directory.  This directory will increase the number of pro bono attorney’s working with victims of domestic violence.  The directory will be available this summer on their website ProBono.Net.  Through programs in the directory the Commission will use, train and mentor volunteer lawyers.  The directory will make access to the legal process easier for victims of domestic violence.

            Domestic violence is an enormous problem in South Carolina.  According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 35,894 people were victims of domestic violence.  Domestic violence resulted in 28% of the murders in South Carolina in 2006.   The South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault reports that South Carolina ranks 2nd in the nation for the number of women killed by men. 

            If you are an attorney interested in helping victims of domestic violence visit www.abanet.org/domviol to see how you can help.  You can also receive CLE credit by watching a Webinar series on Domestic violence But hurry, the Webinar ends May 27th!

-Allie

Craigslist and Legal Services?

craigslist2

 

This is a referral post to both technola and the ABA Journal. Technola for its post about Craigslist and referral to the ABA Journal’s post requesting comments from readers about whether they’ve used Craigslist to advertise.

I’ll be following the findings.

-RFW

Afterthought: Is anyone monitoring attorney advertising rules and ethics on Craigslist?