SRLs – A Start

For those of you interested in learning where to start to learn more about self-represented litigants in South Carolina, here’s my cheat sheet:

Resources

1.         Online

A.  South Carolina:

B.  National:

  • http://www.selfhelpsupport.org/ – Members include judges, clerks, court staff, legal aid advocates, bar association representatives, law school faculty, researchers, and others who work to increase access to justice.
  • http://www.srln.org/ – The Self-Represented Litigation Network brings together courts and access to justice organizations in support of innovations in services for the self represented
  • http://devlegacy.ncsc.org/WC/CourTopics/ResourceGuide.asp?topic=ProSe – The National Center for State Courts’ Self-Representation Resource Guide.
  • http://www.ajs.org/prose/home.asp – The American Judicature Society’s Pro Se Forum.
  • http://www.lri.lsc.gov/prose/prose.asp – The Pro Se Section of the Legal Services Corporation Resource Library focuses on practices to help legal services programs empower low-income clients to help themselves through pro se advocacy.
  • http://www.abanet.org/legalservices/delivery/delunbund.html – The American Bar Association’s Pro Se/Unbundling Resource Center. This site has been developed as a project of the ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services. It is designed as a resource to help lawyers, bar leaders, the judiciary, court administrators, scholars and the media better understand and critically analyze the issues involved in self-representation and unbundled legal services.

C.  Other States:

  • http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/selfhelp/ – The California Courts Online Self-Help Center which helps self-represented litigants find assistance and information, work better with an attorney, and represent themselves in some legal matters.
  • http://www.legalhotlines.org/ – AARP’s Florida senior Legal Helpline Honored by State Coalition.

2.         Attachments

I’m sure there will be more to come, but this should give you a start!

And many thanks to probono.net for supporting many of these platforms.

-RFW

SC Courts Website: Noteworthy!

In perusing the 2009 Edition of Future Trends published by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), I saw that the South Carolina Courts website was featured prominently as an example of user-friendly design.

This is exciting because it highlights the SC Court’s interest in serving the general public and making information easy to find.  And the following Excerpt indicates why the site is so successful:

The South Carolina Judicial Department’s Web team compiled over
a year’s worth of e-mailed requests from court staff, the legal community,
and the public to help design the site’s e-mail notification system, through
which Web visitors can sign up to receive opinions, orders, rules, forms,
court news, and more.

The report also contains information about the rising number of self-represented litigants within the nation’s court system. While South Carolina has been working to address this area with our access to justice SRL efforts, SRLs are exponentially increasing their presence in the courts.

If you are interested in court trends in SC and around the USA, I would definitely recommend taking a few minutes to check out the recent NCSC report.

Special Thanks to technola for pointing us toward the report.

-RFW

Listening Matters

This has been an interesting day.

This morning I attended a part of the SC Judicial Conference. The SC Access to Justice Commission’s website was featured along with some special projects with divisions of the SC Courts, especially two projects for Self-Represented Litigants.

Afterward I returned to the office to begin other work, especially that involving increasing pro bono service by the private bar. And if you’re not familiar with Rule 608 which some private bar members attribute as the primary barrier to increased pro bono service in South Carolina, click here.

At any rate, I entered a discussion of pro bono. In the midst of an enthusiastic discussion, one of the three participants advocated a position.  Immediately I (re)entered the discussion and proceeded to reject this concept. At the end of my pontification, I sat back in my chair, feeling satisfied that my response had enlightened both participants. Instead, the person who had originally advocated the position, re-stated the position. I turned to both participants and said “oh, you said [legal term].” Both nodded in agreement. At that, I apologized and agreed with the original position.

Please note:

  • Listening is courteous.

  • Listening is efficient.

  • Listening Matters.

-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