Pro Bono in Action! RichBar and HELP

Thanks to the Richland County Bar Association’s Public Service Committee!

Friday Wrap-Up 5.22.09

Here’s a Wrap-up of the week ending 5.22.09

I know this is mostly pointing folks to other sources for news, but as you can see, there are simply too many stories from the week to cover.

Thanks to my new law clerk Allie! She’s already jumping in with both feet.

Enjoy the stories below and have a safe holiday weekend!

Honolulu – City Awards almost $4 million for Homeless Services

LSC – Update enewsletter

South Carolina – SC Statehouse Report

New Brunswick – New Brunswick is facing Legal Aid cuts

Minneapolis – Best & Flanagan wins Pro Patria Award

Memphis – TBA President ready with plans

Washington D.C. – Bread for the City Beyond Bread: The Human Rights Clinic

Texas – Texas Access to Justice Foundation 25th Anniversary (thanks State Bar of Texas Blog)

Australia

Homeless Person’s Legal Service Forum (Robert McClelland)

Pro Bono Initiative to Strengthen Rule of Law (Robert McClelland) – Lawyers Beyond Borders

The Legal Intelligencer/Law.com – Use ‘Pro Bono Networking’ to Market Yourself into a New Job

New Jersey – TRENTON: State courts closed Fridayand again in June

JD Supra: Legal Articles – The 4 Ps of the Internet: Personal, Private, Professional and Public

Michigan

Mental health court serves public interest

The South End – Law School fellowships provide students with work opportunities, tuition dollars

California – New California Law School Unveils its First Clinic

InHouse Insider – 2009 Best Legal Department: And the Winner is . . . (be sure to track all 3 “winners”)

Tolerance.org: Teaching Tolerance – Use This Summer for Social Justice

NPR: Lawyers Make Pro Bono Leap into Foreclosures (thanks to Mercy Politics for pointing us to this story)

-RFW

Update from Project H.E.L.P.

Last fall I wrote 2 pieces about Project H.E.L.P. providing legal assistance to homeless individuals in Columbia, SC.

Recently I received my Richland County Bar Newsletter with an update on Project H.E.L.P.  and thought you may be interested.

To read the update, 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


Speaking of Hunger, what about the Homeless?

A few weeks ago I wrote about Project H.E.L.P. and the attorney training scheduled for Friday, October 3rd. Here is an update from the apparently successful training.

Jeff Yungman, Director of Legal Services for the Homeless Project at Crisis Ministries in Charleston, started off the CLE with a general discussion of the issues that homeless clients face. 

Sue Berkowitz, Director of SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center, who talked about Benefits Law, including Temproary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Medicaid.  

Rita Roache, a Charleston attorney with South Carolina Legal Services, spoke about Family Law. 

Stacy Thompson, of Bluestein, Nichols, Thompson, & Delgado, spoke about Social Security Benefits and Claims. 

Approximately 40+ attorneys attended the training and there are volunteers booked through spring ’09. The first service event will be held in November.

Stay tuned . . . .

-RFW

H.E.L.P. is on the way for Columbia Area Homeless

The Richland County Bar Association, St. Lawrence Place, Midlands Interfaith Homeless Action Council, SC Cares and SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center are offering a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) Seminar entitled “Legal Issues Affecting the Homeless in Support of the Columbia HELP Homeless Legal Clinic.”  The CLE will be held Friday October 3, 2008 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Nelson Mullins Columbia location. (CLE credit is pending.) To register, contact Norah Rogers at norah.rogers@nelsonmullins.com.

Project H.E.L.P.  also known as Homeless Experience Legal Protection is an initiative started by Judge Jay Zainey, U.S. District Judge for the Easter District of Louisiana. Project H.E.L.P. started in New Orleans to assist homeless people with maintaining identification documents and providing their service providers with certified copies. Following Hurricane Katrina, the project grew dramatically and has expanded to other cities including New York, Chicago, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Shreveport, and Savannah, as well as Columbia.

In Columbia, the project will begin a once-monthly morning clinic offering pro bono legal services and providing basic information about access to government benefits, identification documentation, housing, child custody, and other common legal issues affecting the homeless.

-RFW with thanks to Coleman Chambliss