No paper towels, only legal paper

This may seem like a strange title for a post, but recently I received an email from South Carolina Court Administration indicating that Clerks of Court are having to reject pleadings at a higher rate due to an increase of non-conformance with Rule 10, SCRCP.

For new attorneys and self-represented litigants, it may be a good idea to review Rule 10 of the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure which governs Form of Pleadings.

Here is Section (a) of Rule 10. Please note the numbered arrows correspond with bracketed numbers in the text.

(a) Caption, Name of Parties. Every pleading shall contain a caption setting forth the name of the State [1] and County[1], the name of the Court[6], the title of the action[5], the file number [4]and a designation as in Rule 7(a). In the summons and complaint the title of the action shall include the names of all parties[2][3], but in other pleadings it is sufficient to state the name of the first party on each side with an appropriate indication of other parties.

Caption with arrows

Note this entire portion is called the CAPTION.

Please note that there will not be a docket number [4] until the Clerk of Court assigns one. If you do not know your judicial circuit number, you can check the map here on the SC Courts’ website.

Now, let’s skip down to Section (d):

(d) Manner of Preparing Papers. Pleadings and other papers shall be on legal cap paper, eight and one-half by eleven inches in size. They shall be plainly written with adequate spacing between lines or typewritten with not less than one and one-half spacing between lines. Each page shall be numbered consecutively and pages shall be fastened at the top so as to read continuously. Papers in handwriting or typewriting must have a blank margin of an inch and one-half on the left. Plats, photographs, diagrams, documents, and other paper exhibits or copies thereof may be submitted in their actual size; but should be reduced if practicable to eight and one-half by eleven inches if such reduction does not impair legibility and clarity.

What’s of interest here is that even though it clearly states that PLEADINGS AND OTHER PAPERS SHALL BE ON LEGAL CAP PAPER (8 1/2 x 11), the Courts have been receiving pleadings written on paper towels, napkins and even envelopes. And according to Section (e), the Clerks can refuse to file pleadings or papers that are not prepared according to this rule.

Skip down to Section (e):

(e) Filing Refused. The clerk of the court shall not file any pleadings or other papers not prepared in accordance with this rule; except plats, photographs, diagrams, documents, and other paper exhibits as provided in paragraph 10(c).

Please read through the rules before filing documents and make sure you’re in compliance with the rules. If not, the result could be costly to litigants while slowing the efforts of judges to dispense justice.

And if you are a self-represented litigant and are not sure what to do, you may wish to consult an attorney to ensure that you are not giving up your legal rights.

-RFW

Wyoming ATJ Commission Seeks Input

An article in the Wyoming Business Report notes that the Wyoming Access to Justice Commission is looking for information from human services providers about the legal needs of low-income Wyomingites.

And as is so often the case, legal needs are human service needs – with a twist. By the time the human need has become a legal need, all other resolutions have been tried and likely failed (unless the reason for consulting with an attorney is preventitive, but that’s another post for another day).

I’m pleased to see that the Wyoming ATJ Commission has identified partners to assist them in the process of determining their priorities.

From South Carolina to Wyoming: 

Good luck! We’re glad to have you on board!

All Aboard the Access Train
All Aboard the Access Train

-RFW

More SRLs: Are Lawyers too Costly or Simply Sign of Hard Times?

That’s the question coming out of Connecticut this week, see Connecticut Law Tribune article here. Whatever the answer, the numbers of Self-Represented Litigants or SRLs is on the rise. The trend isn’t limited to Connecticut either. Recent conversations with family court judges, clerks of court and masters-in-equity have indicated that South Carolina is also part of the trend.

The challenges faced by other court systems also mirror what is happening in South Carolina. SRLs are not familiar with procedures to meet minimal requirements such as notifying the other party or service of process. Even if they meet procedural requirements they may not understand some of the documents themselves. They may not even complete all the necessary forms.

Additionally, attorneys have a reputation for using their own language, also known as legalese. The phrases in legal documents often are in Latin, not English. The South Carolina Access to Justice Commission is working with the courts to ensure that court documents are written in Plain English whenever possible.

Clerks of Court in South Carolina have also noted the rise in SRLs. Members of the public often ask for forms, then ask for help completing them. Or they may ask for advice from the clerk of whether to bring the action. Clerks are wary of responding – not because they don’t want to help, but because they don’t want to overstep into the practice of law – the unauthorized practice of law. In South Carolina, there are established laws indicating that only attorneys licensed in South Carolina may practice law in South Carolina. Legal advice is considered the practice of law. The South Carolina Access to Justice Commission is also working to address this question by developing signage clearly indicating what clerks can and cannot do. And the Commission is working with a clerk of court work group to educate clerks and the general public about the fine line between advice and information.

Judges note that they too have ethical dilemmas. When SRLs appear in their courtrooms and miss relevant pieces of their cases, the judges want to help but they too have boundaries. They may not help one side to the detriment of another.

SRLs have arrived and South Carolina is working to address the issue of increased numbers of SRLs in the courts.

But it may take a little while.

Thanks for your patience.

-RFW

SC Access to Justice Returns Home Wiser

Richard Zorza, self-represented litigant guru, and Stephanie Nye
Richard Zorza, self-represented litigant guru, and Stephanie Nye

The delegation from the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission returned to South Carolina yesterday from the Court Solutions Conference in Baltimore. The conference was informative and educational. The track pertaining to self-represented litigants offered 15 modules to choose from. The plenary sessions for self-represented litigants offered general information about each of the modules while allowing for an intensive focus on the specific. Many states offered information about initiatives and were willing to share ways to move forward to ensuring access to justice for all.

Desiree Allen, Stephanie Nye, Judge Deadra Jefferson, Judge Michael Baxley, Ellen Osborne
South Carolina Delegation: Desiree Allen, Stephanie Nye, Judge Deadra Jefferson, Judge Michael Baxley, Ellen Osborne

Each state was asked to briefly describe what they are proud of and what they want to learn from other states. The South Carolina state report was:

Judge Jefferson compares notes with Judge Lora Livingston out of Texas
Judge Jefferson compares notes with Judge Lora Livingston out of Texas
  • South Carolina is proud of: (1) completing public hearings where we identified problems faced by self-represented litigants; (2) completing initial judicial and clerk of court trainings where we featured the public hearing video from self-represented litigants describing their experiences; (3) providing ethical training to summary court and clerks of courts when working with self-represented litigants; and (3) completing and distributing the Bench Guide to summary court judges.
  • South Carolina wants to learn from others: (1) ways to build strong library partnerships; (2) ways to enhance partnerships and collaboration with other entities such as Legal Services, Community organizations, etc.; and (3) information about successful self-help centers.
Robin Wheeler interviews Judge Bell of Maryland