Twitter and A2J: A Surprisingly Happy Partnership

Just happened to get on Twitter this a.m. for an early morning review of happenings in the Access to Justice (A2J) world, when I noticed a tweet from my colleague in Georgia, Mike Monahan, whose Twitter handle is @ProBono_GA. He retweeted a fellow named Damon Elmore (@bikeGAcounties) who is cycling every county in Georgia to raise money for Georgia Legal Services.

** Fun Fact: There are 159 counties in Georgia. For a full listing, visit http://georgia.gov/municipality-list **

I was blown away by this clever idea. Not only is it a great way to stay in shape with fun exercise, it is a great way to highlight the need for legal services throughout the state.

So, what did I do next? I tweeted, of course:

Just saw is biking every county in Georgia to raise money for – Great idea! Check it out and support him

And, after? I donated to the cause. As of this morning, he has raised $3140. His goal is to raise $15900 or $100 per county with all donations going directly to Georgia Legal Services.

~ rfw

P.S. – As a bonus, he did mention he was born in Beaufort, South Carolina. Maybe when he’s completed his goal in Georgia, we could convince him to visit our 46 counties.

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5 States Receive ProBono.Net Award

What do Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Minnesota, and New York have in common?

Sounds like the start of a joke, but it’s not. If it were, they would be laughing all the way to the bank.

Instead ProBono.Net has awarded these five states’ legal services organizations developing innovative online document assembly projects through its NPADO Demonstration Project.  The projects address legal issues including foreclosure, criminal expungement and the needs of the Spanish-speaking community.

To read more, click here.

Congratulations!

-RFW

Save the Dream Tour Brings Hope to Homeowners

When: MARCH 13th – 16th

Where: Columbia, SC

What: NACA Save the Dream Event allows some homeowners to restructure their mortgages the same day

Hosted by: Representative James Clyburn

Cost:  FREE

Thousands line up to meet with Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA) counselors to discuss their mortgages and keep their homes. According to an article in the Columbia Regional Business Report (CRBR), more than 10,000 people participated in the first three days of the Save the Dream event. NACA’s role is to work with homeowners and lenders to stave off foreclosures; often by reducing mortgage rates.

U.S. House Majority Whip James Clyburn was instrumental in bringing the group to Columbia. According to the CRBR report, Rep. Clyburn noted that “homeownership is the most widespread access to wealth in this country.”

According to an article in The State, 202 counselors were on hand to evaluate each homeowner’s situation; which averaged 45 minutes per case.

Even though the special event ends today, NACA will continue its work in South Carolina at its offices in Columbia and Charleston as well as its nearby offices in Augusta, Georgia and Charlotte, North Carolina.

If you are a homeowner and have questions, click here or call toll-free 1-888-302-NACA. Information is also available in Spanish here. (Español aquí)

-RFW

South Carolina sighs “Sometimes it’s good to be outside the top 10” – Foreclosure News

It’s usually a good thing to be a leader.  But every now and then, it pays off to be in the middle of the pack. This is one of those times for South Carolina.

South Carolina is NOT a Top 10 Leading State in Foreclosures!*

Who leads the nation in foreclosures?

California leads, followed by Florida, Arizona, Illinois, Nevada, Michigan, Ohio, Georgia, Texas, Virginia.

Although South Carolina does not lead the nation, our state courts are receiving record filings in the foreclosure arena; many by self-represented litigants.  Many legal and social service providers continue to work with people to save their homes.

Trend information is available online at the RealtyTrac where they track foreclosure information. You can access blogs and other information about foreclosures at this site.

-RFW

For information on a foreclosure ticker, check out my previous post. For a different website with an interactive foreclosure map, visit here.

* According to http://www.realtytrac.com/TrendCenter/Default.aspx?address=.

GA State of the Judiciary – Portentous

Georgia Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears

delivers Georgia State of the Judiciary

Yesterday Georgia’s Chief Justice delivered the Georgia State of the Judiciary to the state legislators. In it, she noted that access to justice continues to play a large role in the function of the judiciary.

Although Georgia and South Carolina are geographic neighbors, we also have similar interests regarding access to justice during this trying economic crisis.

Excerpts from her speech from the Rome News Tribune:

The judicial system’s budget is less than one percent of the overall state budget, but we play a huge role in protecting the safety and security of Georgia citizens. Unfortunately, like others in state government, we have had to slash our budget to the bone. We have reduced personnel and cut our expenditures. 

Because of the effects of the nation’s bad economy, people will need access to justice now more than ever. We already see this happening. The number of mortgage foreclosure cases in Georgia is at an all time high. Debt collection has increased dramatically. We may also begin to see an increase in other types of problems that typically escalate during tough economic times, such as crime, child abuse, domestic violence and substance abuse. . . .  Administering justice under the law is a function that only government can fulfill. The determination of guilt and innocence, property rights and parental rights, legal privileges and power are judgments only government can make. Administering justice is one of the reasons governments exist. If we neglect this fundamental obligation to the people, we break trust with them, and ultimately, lose their confidence. And for government, public trust and confidence is everything.

For the full text, click here.

-RFW

Budget Cuts: Georgia & South Carolina

A State Budget Crisis is continuing to stretch an already thinly stretched court system. South Carolina has been humming this tune for a while now. Sounds familiar, right?

South Carolina has fewer judges with a heavier caseload than any other court system in the nation

SC has the highest number of general jurisdiction non-traffic case filings per judge (4,180) in the country.  The next highest is 3,147 in North Carolina

SC has the fewest number of general jurisdiction judges per capita in the country at 1.1 per 100,000 population

SC’s general jurisdiction civil caseload increased 68% in the 10 years from 1996 to 2006[1]

FY[2]          APPROPRIATIONS                 FINES & FEES         FED’L FUNDS       TTL SPENT        

99-00       $41,065,091                         $54,781                   $0                            $41,119,872

00-01       $46,486,500                            $66,575                 $0                            $46,553,075

01-02       $39,014,860                         $2,849,873           $928,311               $42,793,044

02-03       $35,685,629                         $6,683,806           $2,897,322           $45,266,757

03-04       $31,849,253                            $10,105,241         $5,831,459              $47,785,953

04-05       $32,650,207                         $12,207,897         $4,664,535           $49,522,639

05-06       $33,958,408                         $14,390,096         $5,755,279           $54,103,783

06-07       $36,631,439                         $15,065,443         $5,053,703           $56,750,585

07-08       $38,101,765                         $15,323,985            $5,000,000           $58,425,750[3]

Now it’s happening in Georgia according to an article by Protecting Civil Justice, a blog by the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association.

While criminal litigants can often take advantage of speedy trial demands to move their cases through the court system, civil litigants have no such rights and cases can drag on for years before reaching trial. At least one judicial district has temporarily suspended all civil trials because of crowded dockets.

You may be asking whether the number of judges has an affect access to justice. Yes, it does. It has a LOT to do with access to justice.

While it’s true that many cases settle before going to trial, many an attorney has realized that the possibility of a trial, especially a public trial involving an egregious civil rights’ action, can often bring about the same or sometimes better result as actually going to trial. BUT sometimes a person just wants their day in court. And the facts of the action are such that it’s appropriate to continue to the court and let either the judge or the jury decide the remedy.

THIS is when access to justice is affected by budget cuts in the judiciary.

For example, a female victim of domestic abuse has finally left her abusive spouse. Although she has been able to shield her children and herself from continued assault, she has no money for daily living expenses and really cannot continue to feed and clothe her children. She needs to go in front of the judge to petition for child support. Let’s even concede that she has no trouble finding an attorney to assist.

Ok, her attorney files the petition. Her case is assigned a date on the court calendar. Hurray, right?

Not so fast. The court date is four months away due to budget shortfalls and lack of judges.

She has to decide – go back to the abuse or stay away. If she goes back she may die. If she goes back, her children may be harmed. If she goes back, the cycle continues. BUT the children will have food and clothing. And so will she.

But if she stays away, she may become homeless. And maybe he’ll call DSS to have her children taken away.

True, this is one example. One egregious example that is also a very real possibility.  

Please consider access to justice when you think about budget cuts in the judiciary. It affects a lot more than it appears.

 -RFW

[1] Slide 11 of 28 from the 2008 State of the Judiciary found online at http://www.sccourts.org/whatsnew/SOJ2008/StateOfJudiciary2008_files/frame.htm

[2] [2] Information based on Slide 9 of 28 from the 2008 State of the Judiciary, http://www.sccourts.org/whatsnew/SOJ2008/StateOfJudiciary2008_files/frame.htm

[3] Projected


Applaud your local law librarian!

As I was popping around the internet this evening, in and out of interesting websites, I noted an article about an outstanding law librarian at techno.la. I popped into the article and found a link to the Dougherty County Law Library in Georgia. At first glance it may appear to be similar to many other library websites, but I encourage you to take a few minutes to explore.

For example, in the center of the page, there’s a link to Hear Answers to Your Questions which connects you to a Podcasts page. Literally, if your speakers are on, you are able to hear the answers to frequently asked questions.

There’s another link to Representing Yourself which offers an online quiz which allows a self-represented litigant (SRL) to determine whether or not it will be too hard for them to represent themselves in a court hearing.

It’s a good reminder that our local law librarians can provide a valuable resource to people seeking assistance with access to justice!

-RFW