Congratulations to Texas Access to Justice Foundation!

In one of my e-alerts I saw where the Texas Access to Justice Foundation funded a YouTube video to help low-income self-represented litigants navigate the court system. I viewed the video and was duly impressed. While some of the information will vary for self-represented litigants in South Carolina, the video does provide good general information about what to expect in court.

Here’s the video:

Congratulations Texas!

-RFW

Update: Newberry County Self-Help Center Pilot Program

You may remember a quick announcement on the blog about the Newberry County Self-Help Center Pilot Program back in February. Well I’m pleased to say that the Newberry County Self-Help Center has regular operating hours – 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on the 1st Wednesday of every month.

The Center is located inside the main courthouse, just past security on the right. There are brochures available to the public and a list of clinics and other public offerings will be available to those interested.

Thanks.

~ RFW

Extra Extra: Supreme Court of SC approves Self-Help Center Pilot

SPECIAL EDITION:

Earlier today, South Carolina Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal announced a pilot program for a Self-Help Center for Self-Represented Litigants in Newberry County.

At the end of the 2-year pilot program, the SC Access to Justice Commission will provide a report detailing the program’s effectiveness and making recommendations for further action.

Stay tuned!

-RFW

South Carolina Magistrates Court: Take 1, Scene 1

Below is a video I made based on the recent FAQs for Magistrates Court published on the South Carolina Judicial Department’s Self-Help Resources page.

Please take a look and let me know what you think.

  • Is this a valuable way to promote the FAQs?
  • Is this easily understandable?
  • Any other comments?

Thanks.

-RFW

Focus on Pro Bono: Douglas J. Rosinski

I haven’t met Douglas J. Rosinski in person, but I’m already impressed.

Really, just Google him. When I was looking for Pro Bono providers to interview, I contacted several people around the state; one of whom was Pamela D. Robinson, the USC School of Law Pro Bono Director. I figured if anyone knew who to contact, it was Pam. Sure enough, she referred me to Doug among others.

So, I popped him an email asking whether he’d be interested (or at least amenable) to an interview to post on the blog in honor of Celebrate Pro Bono Week. He promptly responded with his schedule and we had a tele-interview. Doug is very busy and while our interview was “interrupted” by his firm responsibilities, we somehow managed to complete the following:

Q:        Please tell me a little about how you became involved in Pro Bono service?

A:        When I attended law school (1994-1997), I was an older student and part of my reason for going to law school was to shift into a career where I could give back in some way, such as Pro Bono work. Before law school, I served as a Navy submarine nuclear engineer and commercial nuclear consultant, worked on robotics development for NASA, and as a consultant for the Department of Energy.  I thought that my life experience in problems solving would provide a basis for helping those seeking assistance with their problems; helping them make decisions. Most of law is making decisions and they’re easier to resolve with a little life experience.

Q:        What pro bono experience have you been providing?

A:        Well, after law school, I practiced as a solo for a short time in Georgia. Then I moved to D.C. where I worked in nuclear licensing. I still had a desire for community service, but somehow the usual pro bono clients didn’t seem to satisfy my interest. Then I came across a pro bono project providing service to veterans – the Veterans Pro Bono Consortium. They provide free attorneys to veterans and their qualifying family members who have an appeal pending at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (Court).

So I took a case; which ended up being a precedent-setting case. Before this case, if a veteran died before his appeal for VA benefits was resolved, the VA kept the money. It turns out the placement of a single comma in the VA regulation was different than in the controlling statute: it made all the difference in the case and for thousands of other survivors of veterans who died waiting on appeal.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t uncommon for veterans to die while waiting for the decision. And, $50,000 or $250,000 doesn’t mean as much to a dying 65-year-old veteran: it would have meant a whole lot when the veteran was 45 years old. There are a million VA claims backlogged some for years and even decades.  There are only a few hundred lawyers to help. This type of work has a direct impact on homelessness, poverty, and health care for veterans and their families. Most of these veterans are surviving on the low-end of the financial spectrum. It’s bizarre. It’s unfair. It generates a lot passion. I figure I can fight this fight with my legal tools and professional experience.

Oh, and these aren’t quick or easy cases. It’s a 3-tier system: Administrative decision first – typically pro se; Board of Veterans Appeals, which can be very lengthy and also pro se or a non-lawyer representative; and finally appealed to the Court of Veteran Appeals, which is a relatively new court.  The Court, however, has formal rules and deadlines unknown in the informal VA system. This third tier can be especially hard for veterans trying to work through the system on their own if only because Federal Circuit and Veterans Court precedent applies, not VA rules.  This 3rd tier is where the Pro Bono Consortium enters and matches eligible appellants with pro bono lawyers.

Besides knowing that you are helping very deserving clients another great reason to do this type of work is quick appellate level experience. You can take one of these cases, and in just a few months, you’re briefing and perhaps arguing it in front of a panel of federal judges, perhaps even in front of the United States Supreme Court! These cases have national reach and national implications.

AND YOU CANNOT BEAT THESE CLIENTS! They are deserving and appreciate the work you do for them, even when the outcome is not as hoped.

Nationally there are approximately 1,000 attorneys who do this type of work. And only about 100 or so of them who are regularly taking these cases. Right now there are roughly 25,000,000 veterans and over 1 million claims filed each year.

I look for cases when the veteran simply cannot afford an attorney yet has a meritorious claim and a legal issue that could effect many other cases. Believe me, there are a lot of veterans proceeding on their own. And it’s complicated. For me, I prefer the more complicated cases. They’re more challenging.

My first client? He was a World War II veteran. The VA error had occurred 47 years earlier. He had received 2 bullet wounds in WWII, but the VA was only compensating him for one. He fought for his rightful benefits. In 2002, he finally received a letter approving his benefits.  Shortly after he received the notice, he had a fatal heart attack.  His wife survived, but the VA refused to pay her the benefits because the veteran had died after the decision to pay, but before the check was actually issued.  We got that practice ruled illegal and the widow got her money.  After that case, it was estimated that approximately $3 million per year went to widows in the same situation.

Another client? He was a volunteer in 1943, one of Merrill’s Marauders aka The 5307 Composite Unit (Provisional). He suffered a back injury moving a cannon. It took until 2002 to get the decision to award him his benefits. He received a phone call about the decision to award him benefits, then a few hours later, he died. And we continued to fight it. His wife, the widow? Living in a dirt-floor shack in Tennessee. She got her money too.

These are not atypical examples. Military service can have such a huge adverse impact on these veterans’ lives.  Attorneys can have a similar, but positive, impact when the VA fails to treat these people’s claims correctly.

I really had no idea that this pro bono service would lead me to such amazing and professionally rewarding experiences.

-RFW

Reporting Your Pro Bono Hours

Seeking Comments from South Carolina Attorneys!

The South Carolina Bar Pro Bono Committee and the South Carolina Supreme Court Access to Justice (SCATJ) Commission are seeking input on proposed changes to Rule 6.1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct (SCACR 407).

This rule concerns the provision of pro bono service to individuals of limited means or public service/charitable organizations. The proposed changes include the creation of a reporting mechanism for pro bono hours and a requirement that those hours be reported to the Bar.

Pro bono participation remains voluntary.

Click here to view the proposed changes to the rule. Should Rule 6.1 be amended in the future, the Bar would provide additional information to facilitate the reporting.

Please send comments on the proposed changes to Cindy Coker, Public Services Director or Stuart Andrews, Vice- Chair of the SCATJ Commission.

Comments should be received no later than Friday, November 5.

Are you willing to carry the ball?

I'll carry the ball

This morning I attended the Richland County CASA Quarterback Breakfast at the Clarion Hotel in Columbia, SC where I feasted on a sumptuous southern buffet breakfast and met several interesting and enthusiastic volunteers. (You have to be enthusiastic to show up at a non-mandatory 7:30 a.m. meeting, right?)

I sat with Paige Greene, RCCASA’s Executive Director, for a few minutes and learned the following:

  • RCCASA hosts quarterly quarterback breakfasts for volunteer recruitment and retention. While this event is primarily geared toward males, there are some women who show as well.
  • If each event brings in 10 new volunteers, that is 40 new volunteers per year.
  • RCCASA has already reached its 2010 goal with a total of 70 new “recruits.”

Since January 1, 2010, they have served 934 children via 973 court hearings through their program. The average amount of time their cases are open (assignment to closure) is 9 months. And since January 1st, they have closed 408 cases.

If you want to learn more about RCCASA or you want to volunteer to speak for a child, call (803) 576-1735 or email casa@rcgov.us or check out their website at www.rccasa.org.

More photos from this morning’s event:

Another Steps Up
Breakfast is served
Footballs
Footballs everywhere - and each football has the name of a GAL and the names of the children he has helped!
Got Game?
Paige speaks
I'll carry the ball
Speaking about the different initiatives
Quarterbacks!
Table . . .
Thanks for helping!
The group listens
Tossing the Ball

-RFW