New Order, New Commissioners, Happy New Year!

This has been a whirlwind autumn and it’s hard to believe it’s already 2015! I hope everyone had a safe and happy new year.

The SC Access to Justice Commission has undergone a recent overhaul. On October 20, 2014, the Chief Justice issued a new Administrative Order for the Commission. The changes ensure that Commissioners represent a broader scope of judges and attorneys, while imposing term limits so that we don’t overstay our welcome with our Commissioners, who already volunteer their time and talent.

In keeping with a new order, we have new Commissioners. Click here for a list.

Stay tuned for updates on our initiatives.

Many thanks to all of you who support access to justice!

~rfw

Nominations now open: Ellen Hines Smith Legal Services Attorney of the Year 2014

The South Carolina Access to Justice Commission is pleased to open nominations for the Ellen Hines Smith South Carolina Legal Services Attorney of the Year Award.

2014 Ellen Hines Smith Nomination Form

Nominations will remain open until November 12, 2014.

The award winner will be decided by a joint awards committee of the South Carolina Bar Foundation and the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission. The award will be jointly presented at the South Carolina Bar Foundation Gala, to be held on Saturday, January 24, 2015.

~rfw

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

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

Access to Justice: Iowa Style

Below are excerpts from IOWA State of the Judiciary delivered by Chief Justice Mark S. Cady on January 12, 2011. Unfortunately some of these access to justice issues noted by Chief Justice Cady resound here in South Carolina. For the entire text, click here.

Iowans cannot have the hope of justice without having access to justice. The grim reality is that more and more Iowans with legal problems are forced to wait too long for their day in court. These problems are troublesome to litigants and shake people’s confidence in our government. These problems result from a decade of fiscal austerity coupled with Iowans’ growing demands for court services.

This situation is not new. It has been raised in the past. Thankfully, you and the governor responded to our concerns last year and provided sufficient funds to prevent further cuts, layoffs, and furloughs. For this action, we are grateful. Like a thumb in the dike, however, this action was merely a temporary fix. It did not halt the continued erosion of court services. The situation grows worse day-by-day.

For example, in the past year, the number of clerk of court offices forced to operate on a part-time basis increased from 26 to 30. Staff reductions are so severe that at times some of these offices must close for business without notice due to unanticipated employee absence. The remaining clerk of court offices operate a full day, but are closed to the public for four hours a week to give employees periods of uninterrupted time to pare down the backlog of work. In addition, it has become increasingly difficult for our juvenile court officers to give troubled children the close, personal attention they need. Also, judicial rulings are delayed because of a lack of clerical support and court reporters.

I will briefly review how we arrived at this critical juncture.

From 2001 through 2009, in response to the state’s fiscal problems, the judicial branch like most components of state government had to cut its budget. During those years, the judicial branch cut its budget five times―and each time the cuts were deep. Unlike many state agencies, nearly all of our operating costs are for people―employees and judges. This means that budget cuts almost always require further reductions in our workforce. The end result: our staffing levels have dropped a staggering 17% in the last decade.

Today, Iowa’s court system operates with a smaller workforce than it had in 1987. In contrast, over the same period, the total number of legal actions brought by Iowans and Iowa businesses has nearly doubled. In short, Iowa’s courts are overrun with work, and Iowans are paying the price with reduced access to justice.

Our ability to deliver court services and resolve litigation to the extent that we do is a tribute to the strong work ethic and indomitable spirit of our judges, magistrates, and court staff. Unfortunately, the admirable efforts of our judges and employees cannot totally shield Iowans from the effects of the past decade of budget cuts.

-RFW

Report of the Task Force on State Courts and the Elderly Released

Today the Supreme Court of South Carolina released the Report of the Task Force on State Courts and the Elderly.

It is well worth reading, if only to note how South Carolina demographics have changed over the years and to see predictions for our future.

Well done!

-RFW