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

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Watch SC State of the Judiciary LIVE!

Today at 12:00 noon (EST), South Carolina Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal will deliver the annual State of the Judiciary at a joint session of the General Assembly.

Earlier today, the South Carolina Court News announced that the speech will be broadcast live on the South Carolina House of Representative’s Live Broadcast Chamber Video. Please note that you will need to have Adobe Flash Player in order to watch the presentation.

And if you are not able to view it live, the South Carolina Court News will announce its archived address (thank you SCETV) as soon as possible after the address.

-RFW

Access to Justice: South Dakota Style

Below is an excerpt from the South Dakota State of the Judiciary delivered by Chief Justice David Gilbertson on January 12, 2011. As with Iowa’s excerpts, this pertains to access to justice for people with low-income or those of modest means. Of note – service to self-represented litigants (SRLs).

ACCESS TO THE COURTS BY THE UNDERPRIVILEGED

A Chief Justice from another state told me that 70% of the divorces in her state are now done by people attempting to represent themselves. We have an increasing number of our citizens who cannot afford to hire an attorney even if one is available in their area. Yet these citizens need and deserve access to our courts. We have worked with the Access to Justice Program of the State Bar to encourage attorneys to provide free legal services to those who need them. Currently there are 275 attorneys who have agreed to do so, an increase of 100 attorneys from last year. This number, while impressive, falls significantly short of the existing need.

Our Unified Judicial System has created many legal forms for those individuals who for various reasons, economic and otherwise, will be representing themselves in a judicial proceeding. At this point the forms deal with domestic relations issues such as divorce, name changes, and child support. Many of these forms are available free on the Internet at the UJS website, http://ujs.sd.gov/, or for a small fee at any Clerk of Court’s office. We hope to expand their scope and availability in the future.

-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

Chief Justice addresses Judicial Conference

Earlier today South Carolina Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal addressed members of the SC Judiciary at the 2010 Judicial Conference.

To learn more, click here.

To proceed directly to the Slides, click here.

-RFW

Congratulations Professor Robert T. Bockman!

Yesterday South Carolina honored Professor Robert T. Bockman with the Order of the Palmetto, one of the two highest civilian honors in the state. South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal presented the prestigious award to Professor Bockman, who had been nominated by his law school students.

Thanks to both The State and The Daily Gamecock for their coverage.

-RFW

If you missed it, you have another chance to view it

South Carolina State of the Judiciary Online

In case you missed the South Carolina State of the Judiciary yesterday, you can now view it online on the South Carolina Courts’ website.

 Yesterday, Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal of the South Carolina Supreme Court delivered the South Carolina State of the Judiciary. The video with full audio and the PowerPoint slides are available online.

-RFW