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

Answering FAQs: It’s Harder than You Think!

FAQ
FAQ

The SC Access to Justice Commission has been working with the Clerk of Court Work Group to develop answers to Frequently Asked Questions or FAQs. These FAQs have taken considerably more time to complete than I had originally thought.

Why?

Because the Clerks, Court Administration and the Commission want to make certain that the information we provide to the public is

  1. accurate,
  2. complete, and
  3. helpful.

In order to assure accuracy, we have reviewed the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure (SCRCP), the South Carolina Code as well as information provided by other states. Additionally, to ensure that the information is complete, we have researched case law and publications, such as “Service of Process in South Carolina” by John S. Nichols and published by the SC Bar.

One other factor that is extremely important to the Clerks, Court Administration and the Commission is that the information is provided in an easy-to-read format and that it is easily understandable. In other words, we want them to be written in PLAIN LANGUAGE.

This week the Commission is submitting the Questions and Answers to the Circuit Court and Family Court Advisory Committees where they will provide another level of scrutiny to ensure that the answers are accurate, complete and helpful.

When the FAQs with their model answers are complete, they will be available online. Be stay tuned for updates.

We’re looking forward to sharing the FAQs and answers with you!

-RFW

SRL Divorce Packet Approved and ONLINE

EXTRA, EXTRA! Read all about it!

The South Carolina Supreme Court approves Self-Represented Litigant Simple Divorce Packet.

Click here to view the ORDER and here for the forms.

The packets were created by the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission, SC Bar and SC Legal Services; developed with Court Administration and CFS Project; and approved by the Family Court Judges Advisory Committee. 

The packet is also available on the “Self-Help Resources” tab on the SCJD homepage

These forms are FREE and may be downloaded at no cost.

-RFW

Oh Canada! Oh yeah.

When lawyers are only for the rich

1-11409

Self-represented litigants are on the rise, not only here in South Carolina or the United States, but also in Canada according to Macleans special report. Interestingly, law and legal practice in both Canada and the USA are based on English law. So it may not be so far-fetched to share common practices – including a rise in the number of self-represented litigants (SRLs or those previously known as pro se).

The premise of the Macleans article (part 1 of a 5-part series) is that as the economy has faltered, the cost of attorneys has remained and many people are now unable to afford to pay for legal representation. They turn to self-representation. And, what they’re seeing in Toronto is similar to South Carolina.

 As the cost of hiring a lawyer soars out of reach, unrepresented litigants are flooding the courts in unprecedented numbers. While no definitive figures exist, some judges, especially in family law, say it’s over 60 per cent in their courtrooms. Chances are, those numbers are going to rise, as the legal profession is now paving the way for even more people to appear without a lawyer. Self-help centres have sprung up in several provinces, and lawyers are offering limited services to entice clients who otherwise couldn’t afford them. Critics say it’s a cynical way to deal with the problem. Being your own lawyer is “like doing your own dental work or heart surgery,” says Judith McCormack, executive director of Downtown Legal Services, a law clinic for the poor, run by the University of Toronto’s law faculty. “It’s a desperate response.”

Historically in South Carolina we’ve not tracked numbers of SRLs, but we are in the process of doing so. The South Carolina Access to Justice (SCATJ) Commission has been working with Court Administration, County Clerks of Court and Judges at all levels to develop protocols for maintaining court efficiency while continuing to meet the needs of the public. Additionally we have been working with these entities to produce court-approved forms that are free to South Carolinians and that are more easily understood than traditional court forms.

The SCATJ Commission will continue to work on improvements for self-represented litigants as well as working with legal service entities and private attorneys to make equal access to justice a reality to all South Carolinians.

-RFW

Why South Carolina Attorneys – I DO DECLARE!

I came across this Declaration of Commitment to Clients while searching for something else this morning. While I’d seen it before and even have a pretty copy of it in my files, it wasn’t and isn’t often that I pull it out to remind myself of my duties. Oh sure, I have every intention of doing so, but you’ve heard about good intentions paving the way to . . . At any rate, I thoughtfully reviewed each commitment. From the number of complaints/information that come into the SC Bar about attorneys not calling or keeping their clients up-to-date, you’d think that attorneys really aren’t serving our clients. But I do realize that for every complaint that comes in, there are 4 or 5 attorneys doing exactly what they’ve committed to do. They keep in regular contact with their clients. They preserve client confidences. In a nutshell, they honor their commitment.

My Declaration of Commitment to Clients
My Declaration of Commitment to Clients
 
So, why the column? Well, it’s the line where atorneys are committed “to make our legal system MORE ACCESSIBLE and RESPONSIVE” to our clients. It’s right there in Black-n-White (and yellow).
Are we doing that? The answer is yes, we are. At least some of us. Within the South Carolina Access to Justice community, there are initiatives regarding court forms -adding them to the website for more accessibility to judges, attorneys and the public as well as make sure that they are written in PLAIN ENGLISH. Initial work is on putting together a Divorce Packet – based on one year separation, no children, no property. The packet will contain not only the forms, but instructions for completing the forms as well. And, more forms and instructional packets are to follow.

You may wonder who has been involved in this process. ATTORNEYS. That’s right, attorneys. Court Administration attorneys. Supreme Court attorneys. Legal Services attorneys. South Carolina Bar attorneys. South Carolina Family Court Judges – all of whom are attorneys.

Congratulations South Carolina! Your attorneys are working to make the law and its many processes easier to follow and understand.
-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