Happy New Year! Welcome 2014

It’s been a really good year for South Carolina Access to Justice! Below is our newsletter that highlights a few items we’ve been working on.

SCATJ Newsletter End of Year 2013

Happy New Year Everyone!

~rfw

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.

February 2012 Newsletter

We are pleased to share our latest newsletter.

SCATJC February2012

If you have questions, please feel free to email me.

~RFW

Law School for Interpreters: A Success!

Bright and early Saturday morning, 77 people were driving into downtown Columbia to attend the SC Access to Justice Commission’s LEP Work Group “Law School for Interpreters.”

Meanwhile, the sponsors were all busy opening the facility and readying the room and registration tables for each of these interpreters.

At 8:45 a.m., seats filled and the LEP Work Group provided an overview of the day and the program began.

The Agenda:

  • Registration and Breakfast 8:00 a.m.
  • Welcome & Overview 8:45 a.m.
  • Pretest 9:00 a.m.
  • “Oh the Places You Can Go and the People You Can Meet” (Overview of the SC Judicial System) 9:15 a.m.
  • South Carolina State Court Interpreter Certification Program 9:45 a.m.
  • BREAK
  • Circuit Court 10:30 a.m.
  • Family Court 11:15 a.m.
  • Magistrates Court 12:00 noon
  • Catered Lunch
  • Court Process 1:45 p.m.
  • BREAK
  • Panel Discussion & Q&A: Reality Check 3:15 p.m.
  • Post-test, Wrap-Up, & Evaluation 4:45 p.m.

The excitement in the room was palpable. Interpreters greeted one another with hugs, and sometimes questions of “which language do you speak?” And the excitement was not limited to interpreters and translators. Many of the event sponsors were thrilled with the turn-out, especially on a Saturday. Languages represented included Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, Chinese, French, and Urdu as well as a few others.

And we’re all excited about the prospect of an additional pool of qualified and certified interpreters and translators in the South Carolina Court System.

Thanks again to our sponsors, speakers, and participants!

~RFW

Want to Interpret in the South Carolina Courts?

Join us on Saturday, February 11, 2012!

Cost: $35 – includes breakfast, lunch, snacks and materials! Pay by check or Discover, Visa or MasterCard.

Program begins promptly at 8:45 a.m. and ends at 5:00 p.m.

Space is limited and preference is given to South Carolina residents.

Registration MUST be post-marked no later than Friday, February 3, 2012. No refunds for cancellations received after Friday, January 27, 2012.

For more information, please email ccoker@scbar.org or call Robin Wheeler at (803) 576-3808.

At our recent SC Access to Justice Commission meeting, we had a guest speaker who presented on Language Access and the growing need for language access in the civil court system.

And, while many of us understand the laws that govern language access, especially in the legal system, the fact still remains that in order to provide qualified interpreters, these qualified interpreters must be available and accessible.

Most everyone I’ve spoken with has noted that we need more qualified interpreters. We simply do not have the numbers of qualified interpreters.

During our preliminary conversations, we learned that while there is a general interest to interpret, many in the interpretation community were unfamiliar with legal terminology and courtroom decorum. And, interpreters were hesitant to pay to take the South Carolina Court Interpreter exam without at least an introduction to the legal system in South Carolina.

As a result, Law School for Interpreters was created.

I’m pleased to introduce the Law School for Interpreters which will be held on Saturday, February 11, 2012. We have a great line-up of speakers including attorneys and at least one judge. The sponsors for the event have all been working together with the Commission as we try to increase the number of qualified courtroom and legal interpreters.

If you, or someone you know, is interested in this course, please complete and return the registration form – Registration for Law School for Interpreters Feb 11 2012.

I look forward to seeing you there!

~RFW

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

Disabilities Awareness Public Forum, Wed., Oct. 26, 2011

Tomorrow as part of Celebrate Pro Bono 2011, several attorneys will be speaking at a Disabilities Awareness Public Forum in Greenville, South Carolina.

The event is FREE and open to the public. We do have ASL Interpreters available for the event, but if you need additional accomodations, please contact Stephanie Gutzman at 864-235-0273 or by email at gutzman@pandasc.org.

Hope to see you there!

~RFW

Congratulations Susan Firimonte – 2010 Ellen Hines Smith Legal Services Attorney of the Year!

This morning Shannon Scruggs, Executive Director of the SC Bar Foundation,  and I (Executive Director of the SC Access to Justice Commission) had the distinct privilege of announcing the 2010 Ellen Hines Smith Legal Services Attorney of the Year – Susan Firimonte.

Susan was surprised as her other Florence office-mates, Andrea Loney (SCLS‘ Executive Director) and we gathered in her office to make the announcement.

In support letters, Florence attorneys were impressed by Susan’s professionalism and with her legal acumen, even citing a Workers Compensation case that was heard at the Supreme Court of South Carolina. Others noted her enthusiasm and hard work to ensure delivery of legal services to the low-income community in the Pee Dee.

Susan will receive the 2010 Ellen Hines Smith Legal Services Attorney of the Year Award at the South Carolina Bar Foundation’s Gala, March 3, 2011. Please join us at the Gala as we honor Susan Firimonte!

Congratulations Susan!

~RFW

P.S. Check back tomorrow for photos.

Access to Justice: Interpreters for the Deaf

The SC Access to Justice Commission is pleased to collaborate with the SC School for the Deaf and Blind (SCSDB), SC Court Administration, the SC Association of the Deaf (SCAD), the SC Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (SCRID), SC Legal Services (SCLS), the SC Bar Public Services Division, and Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc. (P&A) to ensure that all Deaf South Carolinians have equal access to the civil court system.

Part of that collaboration was to increase the number of qualified American Sign Language Interpreters in the courts. Well, as you may recall, last summer, the SCSDB partnered with Richland County to help 25 sign language interpreters work toward nationally recognized legal certification. And earlier this month, that’s exactly what occurred.

From January 6, 2011 through January 9, 2011, 25 sign language interpreters gathered in Richland County for “Foundations of Court Interpreting” by Carla Mathers, who is licensed to practice law in Maryland and D.C. and holds a Comprehensive Skills Certificate (CSC) and a Specialist Certificate:  Legal (SC:L) and has written a book about legal interpreting.

And the collaborators remain committed to providing quality sign language interpretation in the courts.

And many thanks to The State for its coverage of this topic!

-RFW