RESOURCE FRIDAY!

Ok, it’s been a while since I’ve added a RESOURCE FRIDAY post. BUT here’s one I couldn’t resist.

For attorneys and others interested in becoming Guardians ad Litem (GALs) in Abuse, Neglect or Exploitation cases for Vulnerable Adults in South Carolina, there is a resource page just for you – click here.

And, for those of you who aren’t already familiar with lawhelp.org/sc, you may want to check it out! It’s chock full of nifty tips and resources!

-RFW

This is how RCCASA does it!

In early 2008, I was fortunate to attend the South Carolina Bar Foundation‘s Grantee Gathering. One of the special features was Richland County CASA‘s Quarterback Training seen in this video.

Why is this video so important?

Because it highlights a specific recruiting effort by Richland County CASA (RCCASA) for male volunteers. About 9 minutes into the video we learn why this is so important – because 60% of the children served by CASA are male whereas a few years back most volunteers were female.

The children served by RCCASA are children who are involved in the Family Court system and are the subjects of abuse or neglect investigations. It is fairly frequent that the only stable person in these childrens’ lives is the CASA representative, the Guardian ad Litem (GAL).

RCCASA recognized that these children needed volunteers who would also be able to serve as a role model. They saw the need and modified their recruitment plan to fulfill the need.

If you are interested in volunteering or learning more about RCCASA, click here.

-RFW

Friday Wrap 5.29.09

All the week’s “atj” newsworthy items wrapped up

Friday Wrap Friday Wrap

Texas – Texas Access to Justice Commission and Foundation Recognize Major Contributors to Texas Legal Aid

Chicago, Illinois – ABA Invites Obama to it Annual Meeting

Washington, D.C. – 2nd ABA National Conference on Employment of Lawyers with Disabilities (Hurry for the EARLY BIRD special because after June 1st the registration increases)

United States Supreme Court – President Obama nominates Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the U.S. Supreme Court (For more news links, click here. For blog coverage, click here.)

Brooklyn, New York – A Call for Pro Bono at Boro Hall

Lexington, Kentucky – Interview with a True Change Agent

Nashville, Tennessee – New Legal Advice Clinic to Help with Debt Issues

Richmond, Virginia – LINC Recognizes Outstanding Volunteers

Public Justice Center – Donor Inspires Us with $10,000 Gift 

Ventura County, California – New County Program Helping Low-Income Families Adopt

 Winston-Salem, North Carolina – Practical Paralegalism: Paying it Forward

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – Credit Card Reforms Could Help Statements

Fairfield, Connecticut – Hard Times Force People Into Family Court “Solo”

Honolulu, Hawaii – Starn O’Toole Marcus & Fisher Supports Access to Justice Commission

Australia – Pro Bono Work Good for Law Students

New York, New York – Pro Bono Recruitment Drive

San Diego, California – Law Made Public: Legal Research Class for the Self-Represented Litigant

-RFW

SRLs Rise as Economy Declines

No Surprise!

SRLs Rise as Economy Declines

This probably isn’t a surprise to many. But it is interesting that there are more articles about the phenomena.

For example, the New York Times recently featured a story about the rising number of Self-Represented Litigants (SRLs) entitled In a Downtown, More Act as Their Own Lawyers.”  The article noted the phenomena in multiple jurisdictions including  California, Illinois, New Hampshire, New York, and Texas. The NYTimes also notes that the phenomena is not limited to a specific court.

On Saturday, April 18, 2009, the Star-Telegram out of Texas, featured a story about the rise in SRLs specifically in Family Court in its article “For better or worse, fewer using divorce lawyers.”  ABC Channel 2 out of Wisconsin featured its own story, “Economy Affecting Divorces in Court.”

But the phenomena isn’t limited to state courts. Law.com featured its own article entitled “Federal Courts React to Tide of Pro Se Litigants.

Missing from the list of articles is SRLs in Bankruptcy Court. While there are no numbers, percentages, or stories, not to worry, the U.S. Courts website has a site dedicated to “Filing without an Attorney.” In South Carolina, click here. Both sites offer a video explanation as well.

It may not be a surprise but while there may be many people who want to proceed on their own, they are still advised to speak with an attorney, if possible. 

-RFW

SRL Videos

Today I was fortunate to take part in instructional videos for judges when working with SRLs in the courtroom. The scripts were based on several different scenarios including Family Court and Circuit Court cases based on information the SC Access to Justice Commission has learned in previous conferences held by the SRL Network. Many thanks to Richard Zorza who served as not only the inspiration for these videos but also our technical advisor. The South Carolina Bar provided the videographers who ensured that the lighting and takes were correct. And many thanks to USC School of Law 3L Amelia Waring and Stephanie Nye, Counsel to the Chief Justice, who not only wrote the scripts but also directed the shoot. Many thanks also to the old Lexington County courthouse for allowing us to film there today.

I’m looking forward to the final products and am grateful to have supportive Judges, attorneys and individuals willing to make this a quality product.

-RFW

Guest Blogger: Marvin H. Feingold

GUEST BLOGGER:

marvin-feingold

Editorial- By Marvin H. Feingold, Esq.

 

Thank you SC Access to Justice and Justice Toal for an informative and enlightening discussion on the obstacles to pro se litigants in South Carolina courts.  At Charleston Pro Bono Legal Services, serving Charleston County low income residents, we have established procedures that address your concerns. We also have ideas for providing pro bono attorneys to further all residents’ ability to effectively advocate on their behalf.

  

We agree that in Family Court and Magistrate court, a litigant going pro se is at a decided disadvantage.  Even with access to pleadings, a great deal of explanation is necessary for her to properly present a case.  With that in mind, we at Charleston Pro Bono have established a process wherein Charleston School of Law students prepare pleadings for each case; pro bono attorneys then, meet with the client to walk her through the process.  Our office is on call to answer questions at all stages.

 

Self-help is a necessary and effective method of helping to bridge the Justice gap. The development of efficient and effective avenues of self help requires the full commitment of Court Clerks, Judges, Bar Associations, legislators and attorneys. Also necessary, are efforts to streamline court procedures and to make them more pro se friendly. Something along these lines was done last May when Justice Toal Ordered that pleadings in Family Court may be filed In Forma Pauperis without the need to wait for a Motion to be granted before filing. If the IFP is later denied, the party then has 30 days to pay the filing fee. Another example is the statutory provision which allows visitation to be enforced pro se simply by presenting an affidavit to the Clerk of Court.

 

Adjusting the procedural infrastructure to make it more pro se friendly should be considered in the rule-making and legislative processes. Such adjustments of procedure should be informed by the thinking and experience of other States as well as academics who study the subject. The Access to Justice Commission should serve as a clearinghouse for information about self-help developments and also as a leader in promoting policies of Courts which make “going pro se” more workable into the future.

 

 Currently, the South Carolina Bar maintains, on its website, a “how to self represent” in a simple 1 year separation divorce including forms and specific instructions and a “script” for appearance in Court. Pro Bono Legal Service and South Carolina Legal Services, both conduct regular “pro se clinics” in which clients are given personal advice on how to proceed pro se in simple divorce cases. The SC Supreme Court and Charleston County Courts also maintain some legal forms which pro se litigants can access although there is little guidance given as to their use.

 

In addition to simple divorces, Charleston Pro Bono Legal Services has, had success with the following cases which have been handled pro se.

  • Uncontested custody actions
  • Paternity and visitation actions
  • Actions by a parent to recover custody after removal
  • Petitions for Modification of Child Support

Another aspect of pro-se assistance deals with a side of this dynamic subject which has received relatively little examination, namely, Defensive pleadings to avoid default in Common Pleas and Magistrates Court. Specifically, at Charleston Pro Bono, Answers and even Counterclaims have occasionally been ghostwritten for pro se litigants. Such “unbundled” assistance should be recognized as a legitimate function for a lawyer to perform. How much and what kind of advice is appropriate when preparing such a pleading. What ethical considerations apply? What follow-up and/or continuing guidance is appropriate?

 There is little doubt that pro-se litigation will continue to be an important factor in the mix of resources available to low-income people in South Carolina. A  course of inquiry most appropriate to the Access to Justice Commission would in my opinion be: What does the future hold for this device? What types of matters lend themselves to pro se treatment? What are the ethical implications for lawyers assisting clients to proceed pro se? How much should a lawyer be involved in a pro se litigant’s case? What sort of follow-up and/or continuing guidance is appropriate? What about Ghostwriting of pleadings for the pro se litigant? How can Courts, Clerks of Court, bar associations and individual attorneys cooperate to maximize the benefit to all of such a device and lastly, what statutory or rules changes are advisable?

 

All of this effort toward self help may be enhanced through an emphasis on client legal education. “Law schools for non-lawyers” presented by various attorney organizations, courses offered by our community colleges, adult education courses and work done by Legal Services Programs to distribute information about the workings of our legal system may be our first line of defense against injustice in the civil courts.

 

As to the idea of having a Kiosk at the court house, “confidentiality” and “avoiding conflicts” would seem to be the major problems with having Attorneys occupy the kiosk. An “ask a lawyer” model could incorporate the Kiosk idea by having an intake worker available at the courthouse and a list of attorneys on call during specific hours to answer questions. Some sort of “pro se” assistance is however needed, especially at Family Court.

 

 

-Mr. Feingold is the Pro Bono Director of Charleston Pro Bono Legal Services and is licensed to practice law in South Carolina. For more information about Charleston Pro Bono Legal Services visit http://www.probonols.org/.  Not affiiliated with the South Carolina Bar Pro Bono Program.

Clerks of Court Plan for Public Access

The South Carolina Access to Justice Commission’s Clerk of Court Work Group met on Friday, September 26, 2008, to discuss ways to implement access to the courts without crossing ethical boundaries. Dean Robert M. Wilcox of the USC School of Law provided ethical training for the clerks including a Q&A session.

Q&A with Dean Wilcox
Q&A with Dean Wilcox
Dean Wilcox discusses ethics
Dean Wilcox discusses ethics

Dean Wilcox noted that ethical guidelines have been put in place to protect the public from advice that causes them to rely on and change their legal position. He cited a few legal cases and also gave practical information to the clerks.

Clerks discuss issues 9-26-08
Clerks discuss issues 9-26-08
Ethics - Serious Topic
Ethics - Serious Topic

Afterward, Robin Wheeler and Stephanie Nye provided updates about signage to post in the courthouses and the Frequently Asked Questions survey.

 

Robin Wheeler discusses progress on signage
Robin Wheeler discusses progress on signage
Stephanie Nye gathers the FAQs
Stephanie Nye gathers the FAQs

During lunch, the clerks divided into two subgroups – Circuit Court and Family Court. In each of these subgroups, the clerks discussed next steps and initiatives.

Circuit Court subgroup discusses important issues
Circuit Court subgroup discusses important issues

 

Family Court subgroup discussion
Family Court subgroup discussion
The group will continue to meet and discuss access for all South Carolinians.
-RFW