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.

South Carolina Homeownership and Employment Lending Program – SC HELP

Are YOU a Homeowner who is Facing Foreclosure Due to:

Unemployment,

Underemployment,

Reduction in Self-Employment Income,

Death of Spouse,

Catastrophic Medical Expenses, or

Divorce?

If so, there may be help for you via SC HELP, see SC HELP Flyer.

Monthly Payment Assistance:

  • makes monthly payments while you are seeking employment and a return to self-sustainability

Direct Loan Assistance:

  • pays up to $20,000 on past due mortgage to bring it current

Property disposition assistance:

  • provides $5,000 to help transition families from homeownership to rental housing if:

1. Application with SC HELP completed FIRST
2. Permission for short-sale or deed-in-lieu of foreclosure granted
3. Money distributed AFTER execution of deeds completed

South Carolina has been awarded, $295,431,000 in funding from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Hardest Hit Funds to prevent mortgage foreclosure.

SC Housing Corp., a non-profit Division of the South Carolina State Housing Finance and Development Authority is administering the Program, known in SC as the South Carolina Homeownership and Employment Lending Program or SC HELP.

South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) is one of the housing processing agencies for SC HELP.  SCLS assists homeowners who are at risk of foreclosure gather and submit the required documents to be approved for mortgage assistance through SC HELP.

The list of documents can be found here - SC HELP Required Documents List

There are no income requirements for SC HELP and all services are free to the homeowner.

SC HELP will not pay any more than $20,000 on the arrearages.

SC HELP may approve payment of the $20,000 but the actual payment will not be made until SC HELP has verification that the homeowner can pay the balance of the arrearages or that it has been forgiven by the lender or it has been placed at the end of the mortgage.

The requirements for the property disposition assistance program should be carefully reviewed.

NOTE: A homeowner is not eligible for this program if the property has already been sold at foreclosure.

Homeowners may call South Carolina Legal Services toll-free at 1-888-257-1988 Or 1-855-HELP-4 SC

Homeowners may also submit an application at www.SCMORTGAGEHELP.com

For more detailed information about SC HELP, please see Information Flyer

For more information about SC Legal Services, please see SCLS General Brochure

~RFW

February 2012 Newsletter

We are pleased to share our latest newsletter.

SCATJC February2012

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

~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

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

Focus on Pro Bono: Margaret S. “Molly” Day

Recently I had a moment to sit down with a law school classmate, Margaret S. Day aka Molly and discuss pro bono and public interest law with her.


  • I understand that you were active with pro bono in law school.  Please tell me about your experiences there.

I was very fortunate to become involved with Women in Law and the Pro Bono Board in law school, and those two entities opened up a world of volunteering for me.  I participated in Sistercare‘s Battered Incarcerated Women‘s project, which allowed me to assist women in correctional facilities with their legal proceeding against their former abusers.  Going to the correctional facilities and meeting these women from all walks of life who had harmed their abusers and then been punished for that was a real eye opening experience.  I learned a lot about appellate proceedings and a lot about life from that experience.

I also volunteered with Sistercare’s legal advocacy project at the courthouse.  I sat in Sistercare’s office a few hours a week and helped battered women fill out temporary restraining orders and other documents to protect them against their abusers.  I also went to court as moral support for some of these women who were facing their abusers.  Again, I learned a lot about the legal process and life with this project.


In law school, I was privileged to serve as President of the Women in Law Association.  I took part in the organization of many fundraisers, such as the Race Judicata, a race to raise money for a local charity, and a large garage sale in the lobby of the law school, among others.  I learned so much about fundraising from the ground up with these endeavors, and I use this experience today on every nonprofit board I serve.


  • What first drew you to pro bono work?

I was drawn to become a lawyer and especially to pro bono work when I was in undergrad.  To work my way through undergrad, I worked in a casino in Tunica, Mississippi, what was, and may still be, the poorest county in the United States.  To get to work, I would have to drive by ramshackle shacks built on mud and built of plywood, with no plumbing, and naked children.  Prior to that job, I had not been exposed to poverty at that level.  These same residents would come to the casino and spend their welfare checks at the slot machines.  Compared to these people, I was wealthy with my casino salary and tips. I so wanted to help, but had no idea where to start.  It was when the casinos were fighting unionization that I learned I might be able to persduade with argument.  I was asked by the cocktail waitresses to be a spokeperson for their interests.  The ensuing discussions opened my eyes to the law as a career possibility and way to help people.


  • Please tell me about your current pro bono work.

Currently I spend most of my pro bono work helping LowCountry Legal Aid, a nonprofit organization that provides legal services to those who could not otherwise afford it.  The majority of the cases we see are family law related.  This cause is so important and some people don’t understand it.  Can you imagine being married to an abuser of you or your children and not being able to get a divorce?    My work with LCLA has certainly influenced my pro bono work.   I am more willing to take family law cases even if it is an area that I have never practiced in before. The need is so great, and I am willing to ask other lawyers with experience to assist me and bring me up to speed, just so a person will have a lawyer.  Keeping a nonprofit going in this economy is a full time job, especially a nonprofit that is little understood by those outside of the legal field.  I serve on the Board for LCLA, and as its Community Outreach Coordinator, two roles that could easily fill a full time schedule.  I also assist in setting up wills clinics for groups in the community.  We recently did a wills clinic for the Bluffton Fire Department, and we hope to do another one soon for another service or community profession.


I am also a PAI (private attorney involvement) for South Carolina Legal Services.  I take cases at a reduced rate for people that could not otherwise afford an attorney.  Right now I am representing a man that is trying to adopt his nephew.  I am learning a lot about adoption!  Luckily I have a friend from law school that does adoptions all the time, and she has provided immeasureable advice.


  • How do you find out about this work?

I usually find out about pro bono projects through friends.  Robin Wheeler (you!) introduced me to the SC Legal Services people at a Bar Convention.  My friend Mary Sharp, a lawyer in private practice, introduced me to Lowcountry Legal Aid and asked me to be on the Board while she was its president.  My friend Pam Robinson of USC Law school has opened my eyes to many pro bono opportunities. Additionally, I have nonlawyer friends that ask me to help at events.


I wish that I had the time to do more pro bono work for LCLA.  I would like to start taking cases for them in estate planning and advance directives.  I never anticipated that there might be a need for these areas for people that need legal services, but I have found that all people need to feel secure about the guardian of their children should they pass, or the person making their healthcare or end of life decisions.  I am hoping that I will soon be able to devote a set time every week to assisting LCLA with this area.


  • What other projects have you done?

I would like to talk about my appointed cases.  I have been appointed to represent some men in my past three cases that were accused of very nefarious activities.  I was appointed to represent a man that spoke no English and was accused of shaking his baby, and his baby was taken away from him.  He was a decent man and a good father, but because he did not speak any English and was lower income, his baby had not been diagnosed with a rare brain problem she had since birth.  A small fall on to the floor produced symptoms of shaken baby.  It was very rewarding to prove that he was a good father and get his baby back into the home.  This case could have fallen through the cracks and the baby could have entered the system.  Luckily, that did not happen.
Another appointed case I had was a father accused of sexually molesting his child.  He had not molested her and in fact had not been allowed to see her for two years. He had a disability and was not the most educated person, so he had been pushed through the DSS system without understanding the ramifications. Indeed, he had been paying child support on a child that he averred was not his for two years.  After almost a year of hearings and arguments, he was allowed to stop paying child support for the child that was not his, and have visitation for the child that was.
In cases like these, the appointed attorney is often the only fail safe the client has to see that justice is done.  In these difficult economic times, the judicial system and the state agencies are so overburdened and understaffed that they cannot possibly investigate all of the facts and make sure all parties are represented to the utmost.  The appointed attorney must give those cilents 100%.


  • What have you learned by doing pro bono?

I have learned so much about humanity, good and bad, and been surprised by who was good and who was bad.  And i have learned so much about the law that I would not otherwise have learned.  I have met the most interesting people while doing pro bono work; people I would not have met otherwise, if i had not ventured out to do a pro bono project.  My pro bono clients have been so grateful for my representation, and it has always been a rewarding experience to represent them.  I have gained a new respect for the American justice system.  Many times the pro bono lawyer is the one last stopgap for the client in an overburdened legal system or state agency system.  In many of these cases the person has not been heard in his or her steps through the system and the pro bono lawyer is the first person to listen to the person and validate them.


  • Has this changed your view of law or pro bono service?

My view of the law has been changed by my pro bono service.  My first job out of law school was working for a government agency, and my next job was working for a big firm.  In both jobs, I was able to get a routine down to do the most work efficiently to make the most money and produce the best results for my clients.  But in both jobs, my clients were big entities and it was easy to lose sight of the real purpose of the legal system.  With my pro bono work, I have represented individuals who must rely on the justice system to decide the biggest things in their life.  I have gained a renewed respect for due process and our judiciary in this process.


  • What do want to tell lawyers or law students about pro bono?

Just do it!  Not only will you learn some legal skills, get your name out there, and meet new people, but you will make the world a better place for some lucky client.

Guest Blogger: Jeff Yungman

The ABA Commission on Homelessness and Poverty recently met in Charleston to discuss issues surrounding homelessness and veterans. The following is a brief description about the meeting written by one of the panelists, Jeff Yungman of Charleston.

Stepping Up Justice for Veterans as They Stand Down:  Innovative Approaches Courts and Lawyers are Advancing to Help Veterans

The ABA Commission on Homelessness and Poverty presented a program at the Charleston School of LawPaul Freese moderated the program that included presentations by Paul, Jeff Yungman, Antonia Fasanelli, Sara Sommarstrom, and Steve Binder.  As the title indicates, the program focused on legal issues confronting veterans.

Jeff opened the program by explaining why veterans legal issues was the topic chosen to present and current initiatives in Charleston to develop a Veterans Treatment Court and a Veterans Child Support Clinic.  Antonia described pro bono opportunities for working with veterans and the ABA’s role in expanding legal services for veterans.  Sara provided information about the veterans’ child support clinic in Minnesota that uses law students and pro bono attorneys to provide legal services.  Steve then spoke about the homeless courts, their purpose, and how they operate.  Paul ended the program by describing veterans’ treatment courts, the reasons behind the establishment of such courts, and how they function.

The program was attended primarily by law students, but attorneys from SC Legal Services, the Solicitor’s office, and the Charleston bar also attended as well as at least one Charleston Municipal Court judge.  The reaction to the program at the time, and in subsequent comments since then, have been very positive.

Focus on Pro Bono: John Tenney

John Tenney

John Tenney is currently in his third (last) year of law school at the University of South Carolina School of Law.  This semester, his classes are Health Law and Policy, Advanced Legal Writing, Interviewing Counseling and Negotiation (ICN), Trial Advocacy, and Fiduciary Administration. John currently serves as Treasurer of USC Law’s chapter of Phi Alpha Delta, and as a member of the Pro Bono Board.

Favorite class?

I’d say it’s a toss-up between Trial Advocacy and ICN, because I have been eager to get an opportunity to take more skills-based courses that allow me to get a firsthand feel for how “real lawyering”, if you’ll allow the term, actually works.  I believe both courses teach important practical skills with which anyone planning to have a career in the legal field ought to be familiar, regardless of whether one plans to be a trial attorney or never set foot in a courtroom.

Current pro bono work?

Currently I am a volunteer clerk at the South Carolina Administrative Law Court.  It is a fantastic opportunity, and I am excited to have the chance to see firsthand how the Court functions, and to do my best to help the Court carry out its duties.  Everyone there is very friendly and approachable, but also hard working and dedicated to doing their jobs to the best of their abilities.

In addition to this, I am serving as a member of the Pro Bono Board.

What first drew you to pro bono work?

I think it was the opportunity to immediately make a positive contribution. Through Pam Robinson and the Pro Bono Program, right away I was able to become a part of programs that directly helped people.  I was eager to dive right in as soon as I could, and pro bono work is the perfect way to quickly have a positive, lasting impact.

How did you first learn about these projects?

I can’t remember exactly how I first heard about the Pro Bono Program’s various programs, but the first one in which I participated was Project AYUDA, which helps spread awareness to the Spanish-speaking community about legal rights and resources.

I learned about the ALC volunteer clerk opportunity from talking with Pam Robinson, who is a wonderful and endless resource for just about anything, be it pro bono-related or not (and there are always snacks in her office if you need a quick boost!).  If there is a pro bono opportunity out there, Pam knows about it, and knows how you can become involved with it.

Have you done any other pro bono projects while in law school?

I have also done work translating documents into Spanish for the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, which I have done at various times during my law school time.

Pam was instrumental in helping me obtain a summer clerkship after my first year at Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc. Like many public interest organizations, P&A is full of bright, focused people dedicating themselves to protecting and advancing disability rights, making sure that all people, not just some people, are able to enjoy the benefits and protections under the law.  They work directly with their clients to protect and advocate for their rights, and I was able to work with several of the attorneys on their cases.  It was a great experience, and I would highly recommend anyone interest in pro bono work to inquire about volunteering or clerking there.

This past summer I clerked at South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS).  This organization assists low-income South Carolina residents in a wide variety of civil matters, including domestic violence.  I really enjoyed this clerkship because it was a great mixture of getting legal experience, working with capable and dedicated attorneys, and meeting directly with clients.  In addition to the aforementioned usual clerk duties, I also was able to participate in clinics held in the community, with attending hearings, and even acted as interpreter between an attorney and a client who only spoke some English. Their office is a great place to be, and just like P&A, I would definitely recommend looking ito volunteer opportunities there.

As cliché as it may sound, the best part really is seeing how appreciate the clients are.  These are people that need legal help just like the any other person would, and SCLS (and P&A as well) provides free legal help to them.  When a client says “thank you”, there’s real meaning behind it, and as I mentioned before, that’s key when it comes to looking yourself in the mirror at the end of the day.  That person needed help with a consumer issue, may not have known where to turn for legal advice, and now that person is getting the assistance they need to take care of the issue.

Has this changed your view of law or pro bono service?

It certainly has, and more importantly, it’s made me eager to make people more aware of the breadth of what pro bono work encompasses.  I think some people have a perception that pro bono work is confined to a narrow slice of law, or that it’s a minor part of the legal community, which is not even remotely accurate.  There are lots of people involved in the pro bono area, and not necessarily because they work for a public interest organization- plenty of lawyers working in private practice take volunteer cases, to help the legal community and the community at large.  Pro bono service goes on everywhere, and there’s always room for more help.

Do you plan to go into private practice?

As of right now I am not certain if I will go into private practice, and if I do, whether it would be immediately or farther down the line.  However, should I go into private practice, I would be eager to maintain a part of my practice dedicated to pro bono work.

What do you want to tell other law students about your pro bono work experience?

I would tell other law students to jump into pro bono work.  I think one of the most important parts of a career is how you feel about yourself at the end of the day- did you make a difference?  What kind of a difference?  By working with pro bono organizations, you get the satisfaction of knowing you have helped people who need and deserve it, as well as the added bonus of being able to say with certainty that you’ve made a positive difference, be it in your state, your city, or your community.

Additionally, I know that many students are understandably concerned about gaining experience in the legal field, and clerking at pro bono organizations provides an excellent opportunity to do this!  In my two clerkships, I did everything you would expect to do as a clerk at any firm- I did research, wrote memos of varying length and complexity, sat in on client meetings, and other miscellaneous duties that would be assigned to a clerk anywhere.  Combine that with the ability to help those who might not otherwise get help, and you’ve got a perfect opportunity.

-RFW