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.
Happy New Year Everyone!
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.
Happy New Year Everyone!
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.
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.
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 email@example.com or (803) 765-0517 for more information.
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!
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.
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.
The ABA Commission on Homelessness and Poverty presented a program at the Charleston School of Law. Paul 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.
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.
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.