SC Supreme Court News: Revisions to the Self-Represented Litigant Simple Divorce Packet

Earlier today the Supreme Court of South Carolina issued an Order with Revisions to the Self-Represented Litigant Simple Divorce Packet based upon suggestions from the legal community to the SC Access to Justice Commission.

Changes include:

  1. Addition of a sample script for the Plaintiff;
  2. Paragraphs 1 and 2 have been added to Page 1 so the parties can provide the county and state of their residency;
  3. Paragraph 3 of Page 1 has been added so the parties can provide the county and state where they last shared a residence;
  4. Paragraph 4 has been revised to allow the Plaintiff to select the length of time the parties have lived in South Carolina; and
  5. The statement “If no name change is requested, please leave blank” is added at the end of Paragraph B on page 3.
The instructions for completing the Simple Divorce Packet have been revised to reflect these changes.

-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

Tennessee introduces Justice for All

I watched this stunning video produced by the Tennessee Supreme Court and not only was I impressed with its quality and its simplicity, but also with its universality.

Unfortunately, the statistics used within the video match the statistics here in South Carolina.

But the message is strong. And it’s needed.

Watch for yourself!

-RFW

It’s official – Poster and FAQs online – en español

Good News!  ¡Buenas noticias!

The South Carolina Courts’ Self-Help Page now offers FAQs (General Questions, Circuit Court and Family Court) and an explanation about what court staff can and cannot in Spanish!

And many thanks to student volunteers with the USC School of Law’s Pro Bono Program and the kind folks at HABLA!

-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

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.

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

ANNOUNCEMENT OF LOWCOUNTRY LEGAL AID, INC. AWARD WINNERS TO BE HONORED AT 4th ANNUAL CELEBRATION OF JUSTICE

I’m very pleased to share the following announcement from LowCountry Legal Aid, Inc.:

LowCountry Legal Aid, Inc. (“LCLA”) would like to announce the winners of its annual service awards.  LCLA is proud to announce that Sue Berkowitz, Esquire has won the Clifford R. Oviatt Legal Award for the Advancement of Social Justice, which honors a lawyer who supports social justice issues through legal representation, volunteer community service, financial support and the promotion of social justice ideas in daily life.  Sue Berkowitz is an attorney and director of South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, based in Columbia.  South Carolina Appleseed fights for low income South Carolinians to overcome social, economic and legal injustice.

Ms. Berkowitz has been a consistent voice working on behalf of low-income South Carolinians for over 20 years.  She has focused her practice in the areas of health, welfare, hunger and consumer issues. She has worked on the passage of numerous pieces of legislation, including the Small Loan Act of 1995, the Family Independence Act of 1995, the High Cost and Consumer Home Loan Act of 2003, the eligibility increase for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (2007), SC Identity Theft Act (2008), Payday Lending Act (2009) and Unemployment Modernization (2010).  Berkowitz works with a number of state agencies on policy issues that impact the low income community, including changes to consumer and mortgage lending laws, the Family Independence Program, Medicaid, Unemployment Insurance, and Food Stamp rules. She has authored defenses to a foreclosure chapter for a manual produced by the South Carolina Bar as well as numerous manuals for SC Appleseed. She was awarded the Order of Palmetto, the SC Commission on Women’s Woman of Achievement Award, USC School of Law Order of the Coif and the NAACP President’s Award for her work on predatory lending and poverty issues. Berkowitz is a fervent watchdog on consumer, health and hunger issues.

Past winners of the Oviatt Award include attorneys Dick Oviatt, posthumously, William L. Bethea, Jr. and W. Brantley Harvey, Jr.

Mr. David W. Ames has won the Marilyn Stein Bellet Award for the Advancement of Social Justice, which honors a person who supports social justice through volunteer community service, financial support and the promotion of social justice ideas in daily life.  Mr. Ames, a Hilton Head Island resident since 1973, is a planner and developer who consulted in both public and private sector community planning throughout the Southeast, Mexico and the Caribbean. The size, scale and complexity of the projects have varied from small, single use projects to major resort developments, as well as town, county and regional plans. He currently serves as chairman of The Children’s Center Board of Trustees and is chairman emeritus of Hope Haven of the Lowcountry.  Mr. Ames has served on several boards and community service projects in the past, including the board of South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, Beaufort County Aviation Board, Hilton Head College Center, Leadership Hilton Head, Sea Pines Academy, Hilton Head Island Chamber of CommerceLeadership South Carolina, South Carolina Nature Conservancy, Community Development Corporation, and the Mayor’s Task Force on the island’s future.

Past winners of the Bellet Award include Marilyn Stein Bellet, posthumously, Thomas C. Barnwell, Jr., and Jerold H. Rosenblum, posthumously.

Barbara Swift has won the William T. Althoff Award for Outstanding Volunteer of the Year.  Ms. Swift has served on the LCLA Board for some time with enthusiasm and hard work, and has furthered the LCLA goal of providing free advice, education and legal representation to low income families in Beaufort, Jasper and Hampton Counties.

Swift, a Hilton Head Island resident since 1996, currently serves as president of Wellesley in South Carolina and Coastal Georgia, secretary/treasurer of Nadeshiko Kai, New York and co-president of the League of Women Voters of Hilton Head Island, an organization which she served in various capacities on and off for 15 years.  In past years, Barbara has volunteered for numerous local organizations, including the World Affairs Council of Hilton Head, Al-Anon, Boys and Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity, Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, Junior League, Planned Parenthood and United Way of the Lowcountry. She recently came off the board of LowCountry Legal Aid after nine years of dedicated service.

Past winners of the Althoff Award include William T. Althoff, posthumously, Kenneth R. Nagle, and Edward “Ted” Noakes.

The award recipents will be honored at LowCountry Legal Aid’s 4th Annual Celebration of Justice January 22, 2011 at Belfair Plantation Country Club in Bluffton, South Carolina. The evening will include innovative food, live jazz music by Lavon Stevens, a fundraising silent and live auction and an awards presentation to honor the above individuals.  Silent auction items include golf foursomes, a wine tasting for 10 from Corks, a week at Eagle Lake Lodge, and more.  Silent auction items are still being accepted and tickets, which are $100, are still available by contacting the Legal Aid office at 815-1570 or lcla@hargray.com.  LowCountry Legal Aid is a nonprofit organization that provides legal representation and assistance to low income families in the lowcountry.

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.

Pro Bono Q&A with Brett Barker

Brett Barker graduated from the inaugural class at Charleston School of Law in 2007. And he is back there again; as Assistant Dean of Students for Evening Administration. Recently he took a few minutes to speak with me about public service and pro bono legal service.

I understand that one of the goals of Charleston School of Law is “to teach the practice of law as a profession, having as its chief aim providing public service.” Do you think that this goal, along with the school’s emphasis on pro bono legal service influenced you?

The Charleston School of Law’s emphasis on pro bono work had an enormous influence on me.  I started working with Marvin Feingold at Pro Bono Legal Services (PBLS) during my second year of law school. Pro Bono Legal Services awarded me the Nelson Mullins Crisis Ministries Fellowship during the summer prior to my third year of law school. These experiences helped solidify my commitment to pro bono and more importantly, how I could use my law degree to help those who have a critical need for legal services, especially those individuals who are homeless.

What first drew you to pro bono work?

It is difficult to attend the Charleston School of Law and not be drawn to pro bono work.  The school instills in each student the duty attorneys have to serve pro bono clients.  There are lectures, presentations and the 30 hours of pro bono requirement that expose you to the many rewarding opportunities available.

Please tell me about your current pro bono work.

I understand you’re active working with Crisis Ministries and Pro Bono Legal Services. How did you first learn about these projects? In law school I began working with the Crisis Ministries Homeless Justice Project on the recommendation of Dean Saunders, Associate Dean of Students, at The Charleston School of Law.  She was instrumental in starting the Crisis Ministries Legal Clinic, along with Jeff Yungman, a classmate.  Jeff now serves as Director of the program.  Through this relationship I also became involved in PBLS.  I continued to volunteer with PBLS and Crisis Ministries. Both organizations have a support network of attorneys and paralegals that assist if needed.  Most of the work I do for these organizations is in the family law and criminal practice areas.

Have you been actively involved with other pro bono projects?

I am active in my community.  I serve on the Boards of the Folly Beach Exchange Club, Carolina Commuters, and the Boys and Girls Club Shaw Unit.  I am the Treasurer for the James L. Petigru American Inn of Court.  In the past I have served on the Executive Board of the Mediation and Meeting Center of Charleston and as the Vice Chair of The Birthday Foundation Board.

What was most rewarding to you?

I could use my law degree to help those who have a critical need for legal services, especially those individuals who are homeless.

Have you had any surprises over the years related to your pro bono service?

My pro bono clients have always been extraordinarily appreciative.  The pro bono work that attorneys perform is truly life changing or can be life changing.

What have you learned by doing pro bono?

I have learned more than I can tell.  I have learned so much from the non profits where I served.  Following a clerkship, I hung out my shingle.  I found that when I first started practicing no matter how busy attorneys were, they were always willing to serve as a mentor for me, especially when they found out that I was doing pro bono work.  I was then able to take those practical skills and use them when I had clients with similar problems.

What do you want to tell other law students and/or attorneys about pro bono work?

It is very rewarding both professionally and personally.

Last words about pro bono?

Do it!