Do we need more Family Court Judges in SC?

This is the question that recently arose in New York.  According to this post, the New York State Senate Judiciary Committee recommended immediately adding 21 family court judges to the bench. The Committee’s full report is available here.

Interestingly, the reason for the increase is an increase in need due to layoffs, consumer credit, housing problems, crime, and constrained social services as well as an increase in self-represented litigants (SRLs). It is fairly well-established that SRLs typically take more time in the courtroom than those represented by counsel. And reasons vary – many SRLs are not familiar with rules of court; they want to tell their whole story in court – not simply the “relevant” parts; and they may become more emotional because they’re not only living the part of the litigant, but also increasing their stress by acting on their own.

Add to that an increased need and you have clogged courts, aka decreased access to justice.

New York recognizes the need for more Family Court judges as does the representative from the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts.

What about South Carolina? Do we need more Family Court Judges? Take a look at two slides from the Chief Justice’s 2009 State of the Judiciary, slide 12 and slide 13.

Now imagine an increase in the number of filings, say, by 10%.

In Family Court, that would be approximately 7,500 more cases in the year. With approximately 260 workdays per year with 8 hour workdays, that would average 3.6 cases per hour – without time for administrative tasks or completing paperwork.

Now add in extra time for cases in which interpreters are needed. Either American Sign Language (ASL) or Limited English Proficiency (LEP).

What do you think? Do we need more Family Court Judges?

-RFW

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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

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

SC Ranks Between NY and CA

South Carolina Ranks 39th in Child Homelessness

According to the National Center on Family Homelessness State Report Card on Homelessness, South Carolina ranks 39th overall in Child Homelessness. The Center measured factors such as the extent of child homelessness (SC ranks 25), child well-being (SC ranks 35), risk for child homelessness (SC ranks 38) as well as state policy and planning.

In the national study, Connecticut ranked number 1 and Texas ranked last.

South Carolina ranked in the bottom half of the states overall, in between New York ranked at 38 and California ranked at 40.

In the 220 page report, the definition of homeless children is from birth to age 18 who are accompanied by one or more parents or caregivers. Runaways or throwaways are not included in the count.

~ Each year more than 1.5 million of our nation’s children become homeless ~

From the Report itself:

Extent of Child Homelessness: Counting homeless children is important because it helps us understand the scope of the problem, which drives planning and policy efforts. The percentage of homeless children identified in each state was used as one of the four domains in the Report Card. This was based on school data collected through a mandate of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.17

Child Well-Being: For the purposes of the Report Card, child well-being was determined by three factors: food security, health outcomes, and educational proficiency. Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Survey of Children’s Health, McKinney-Vento Academic Progress Reports, National School Lunch Program, and the National Assessment of Education Progress were used to create state scores on child well-being.

Risk for Child Homelessness: By creating an index of risk for each state based on generosity of benefits, household structure, housing market factors and extreme poverty, structural factors contributing to homelessness were included in the composite score. The index of  risk reflects the growing gap between rich and poor Americans and the decreasing number of households that can afford the increasing cost of housing. As their purchasing power has also decreased, millions of Americans must choose between housing and other basic necessities. With the current economic downturn and the staggering increase in housing foreclosures, more and more families are likely to become homeless.

Policy and Planning Efforts: This domain includes a state-by-state review of housing, income, education, and health policies and planning activities related to child homelessness. A total score was computed based on various efforts in these critical areas.

It’s an easy website to maneuver and well-worth your time to explore and use the interactive map and at least review the short reports on your own states. For the short South Carolina report, click here. For the long South Carolina report, click here. For the full report’s Executive Summary, click here. For the full report, click here.

-RFW