Yea Alabama!

For all of you who don’t know, “Yea Alabama” is  the University of Alabama’s (my alma mater) fight song.  However, I’m using this phrase  completely outside of its usual context, which is Crimson Tide football (although I have no problem using the phrase in that context at all).

Frequently, I become tired of hearing people criticize the state of Alabama and how “backwards” it is.   Here, however, is something progressive the state has done.  Check out page 2 of the Civil Right to Counsel Update.

In 2008, both Alabama and Louisiana signed into law statutes recognizing a right to counsel, not only where the state seeks to terminate parental rights, but also where the other parent seeks to terminate parental rights.  This is a great step forward, especially after hearing testimony at some of the S.C. Access to Justice Commission hearings from fathers who wanted to play a role in their children’s lives but who had problems securing their parental rights because of lack of funds.

http://www.civilrighttocounsel.org/pdfs/2008-10-13-newsletter.pdf

Also, as you may have seen in the issue linked above, the state of Alaska’s Supreme Court is poised to make similar determinations in the near future. The issue being whether Alaska’s constitution requires publicly funded counsel for  indigent parents in child custody procedures where the opposing party has private counsel.

Read here for the latest update:

 http://www.civilrighttocounsel.org/pdfs/2008-12%20Update.pdf

– Alex

Self-Represented Litigants Hit the Mainstream Media

SRLs Hit MSNBC News

MSNBC Headline:

THE HOME YOU SAVE COULD BE YOUR OWN: In foreclosure crisis, more Americans representing themselves in court

For quite a while now, this blog has been addressing the ever-increasing numbers of Self-Represented Litigants aka SRLs in the courts, even BEFORE the current economic climate. Now with record numbers of people losing jobs and homes and unable to afford legal representation, the numbers of SRLs have increased to the point where mainstream media is reporting it.

The South Carolina Access to Justice Commission continues to work on this issue within South Carolina and encourages YOU to contact us if you have an area of law that needs specific attention including producing user-friendly forms or training opportunities.

If at all possible, find an attorney to represent you.

Do not represent yourself unless it’s absolutely necessary.

 This is not to say that the Commission encourages people to go into Court unattended. If, at all possible, you can find an attorney to represent you, by all means do so.

We will continue to keep you up-to-date with innovations for SRLs in South Carolina, as well as national trends and developments as we learn of them.

-RFW

PS – This just in: article on law books for self-represented litigants – http://www.hometownannapolis.com/cgi-bin/read/2009/02_01-19/BUS

What’s wrong with this picture?

picture-frame-rfw-2

I found the following comment by “Dan” to an article posted by www.ctv.ca entitled “Canada’s top judge says justice often blockedhere.

Dan
I lost the car, the driver licence because I was registered with Family maintenance – no communication from them whatsoever – and the mother leaves the country and I always took care of the kids.
I lost because 

  • I cannot afford a lawyer.

  • I lost jobs also. Very soon I will be on the streets.

  • No laywer – the judges don’t want to listen.

Why did “Dan’s” words hit so hard?

Because the comments by “Dan” from Canada could easily have been written by “Carl” from Cowpens or “Collin” from Columbia. This past year, the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission conducted public hearings around the state to learn of barriers to justice by those living in or just above the federal poverty guidelines.

What did we hear?

  • We heard that transportation to the courthouse is a barrier, especially in rural areas.
  • We heard that many South Carolinians, including many who work, are unable to afford to hire an attorney.
  • We heard that when people lost their jobs or had medical emergencies, it completely depleted their savings and put them into debt.
  • We heard that South Carolina Legal Services attorneys with large caseloads having to decide whether to help a  19 year-old woman  living in a shelter and also a victim of domestic violence, recently beaten and raped by her husband and then sued for child custody OR an 82 year old widow who has been sued with a foreclosure action due to an unscrupulous, illegal predatory loan. (from actual testimony given at the Anderson regional public hearing)
  • And we heard more.

So why did “Dan’s” words hit so hard?

Because as an attorney and officer of the court, I took an oath to “assist the defenseless or oppressed by ensuring that justice is available to all citizens and will not delay any person’s cause for profit or malice” (see Lawyer’s Oath).

So why did “Dan’s” words hit so hard?

Because “Dan’s” words let me know that I need to continue to assist South Carolinians in need of access to legal representation and the courts. His words echo the words of so many South Carolinians who spoke at the hearings and many who did not who continue to believe that justice is simply a theory that has not, does not and will not be reality for him.

It’s time for justice to become real to people in need. It’s time for justice to become active. And it’s time for the legal community to come together to make it happen.

It’s time for “Dan’s” words to become obsolete.

-RFW

PS – Original Art by RFW/Paint

 

Allow me to introduce myself.

Hi All!

As per Robin’s introduction, my name is Alex Hegji, and I am a current 2L at USC School of Law. This past summer, I had the privilege of clerking for SCATJ, and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience!

I have always had an interest in public interest work, and SCATJ was an invaluable learning experience for me. I had never realized just how many barriers  South Carolinians of low-income or of modest means face when trying to obtain justice for themselves.  The barriers reach far beyond the inability to finance legal representation.  They include the ethical dilemmas faced by clerks of court when they assist self-represented litigants, the difficulties in acquiring sign-language interpreters in the courtroom for the Deaf, and everything in between. 

Some of my favorite projects that I worked on this past summer included helping to author court-approved forms for self-represented litigants and attending public hearings, which provided first-hand insight into the problems manySouth Carolinians must address when entering the S.C. justice system.

I hope this blog will be helpful and provide all of you with a law student’s perspective on SCATJ’s work.

Alex

Mississippi Says it Loud!

Mississippi Justice Jess Dickinson, featured speaker of the first South Carolina Access to Justice Commission meeting in September 2007, was recently featured in the news speaking about the need for increased funding for the state’s legal services.

Justice Dickinson has been a strong supporter of access to justice in Mississippi and around the nation.

While the need for legal services grows, the funding has been decreasing. Justice Dickinson requested assistance from the Mississippi legislature.

-RFW

SC Appleseed NOW!

Over Fifty, Overdrawn

This evening SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center will hit the small screen via NOW on PBS!

Sue Berkowitz, the Executive Director of Appleseed and an SCATJ Commissioner, was interviewed and will be featured on this program discussing the impact of the economic climate on today’s Baby Boomers.

According to the Post and Courier, other South Carolinians featured in the 30 minute show include Teresa Arnold, legislative director of the state’s AARP office and State Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach.

NOW airs tonight (1/23/09) at 8:30 p.m. on SCETV. And for those of us unable to view the program tonight, streaming video will be available online after the broadcast.

-RFW

Oh Canada! Oh yeah.

When lawyers are only for the rich

1-11409

Self-represented litigants are on the rise, not only here in South Carolina or the United States, but also in Canada according to Macleans special report. Interestingly, law and legal practice in both Canada and the USA are based on English law. So it may not be so far-fetched to share common practices – including a rise in the number of self-represented litigants (SRLs or those previously known as pro se).

The premise of the Macleans article (part 1 of a 5-part series) is that as the economy has faltered, the cost of attorneys has remained and many people are now unable to afford to pay for legal representation. They turn to self-representation. And, what they’re seeing in Toronto is similar to South Carolina.

 As the cost of hiring a lawyer soars out of reach, unrepresented litigants are flooding the courts in unprecedented numbers. While no definitive figures exist, some judges, especially in family law, say it’s over 60 per cent in their courtrooms. Chances are, those numbers are going to rise, as the legal profession is now paving the way for even more people to appear without a lawyer. Self-help centres have sprung up in several provinces, and lawyers are offering limited services to entice clients who otherwise couldn’t afford them. Critics say it’s a cynical way to deal with the problem. Being your own lawyer is “like doing your own dental work or heart surgery,” says Judith McCormack, executive director of Downtown Legal Services, a law clinic for the poor, run by the University of Toronto’s law faculty. “It’s a desperate response.”

Historically in South Carolina we’ve not tracked numbers of SRLs, but we are in the process of doing so. The South Carolina Access to Justice (SCATJ) Commission has been working with Court Administration, County Clerks of Court and Judges at all levels to develop protocols for maintaining court efficiency while continuing to meet the needs of the public. Additionally we have been working with these entities to produce court-approved forms that are free to South Carolinians and that are more easily understood than traditional court forms.

The SCATJ Commission will continue to work on improvements for self-represented litigants as well as working with legal service entities and private attorneys to make equal access to justice a reality to all South Carolinians.

-RFW

20 Under 40 – Ties to South Carolina Access to Justice

Congratulations Columbia Business Journal’s 2009 Class of 20 Under 40

Congratulations are in order for ALL who made the grade with the Columbia Business Journal’s 20 Under 40 this year, but it’s particularly exciting to note those with ties to the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission.  We are especially excited to recognize Shannon Willis Scruggs, who is Executive Director of the South Carolina Bar Foundation, which is the largest financial supporter of the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission.

Other 20 Under 40 members include attorneys – Michael James Seezen of the McNair Law Firm; Tally Parham of Wyche, Burgess, Freeman & Parham; Katie Cauthen of the Cauthen Law Firm; Thad H. Westbrook of Nelson, Mullins, Riley & Scarborough; and Christopher R. Koon Vice president and general counsel of Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina. We hope they’ll become familiar with South Carolina Access to Justice in their leadership roles.

As for the remaining 20 Under 40, SC Access to Justice hopes they’ll also play active roles in access to justice in their communities and by offering support. Cory J’von Adams of Boykin Contracting, Inc.; Dionne M. Fleshman of DESA Inc.; Clay Owens of Yankee Candle Co.; Forrest L. Alton of SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy; Ken Carey of Agil Staff Inc.; Charity Garris of Palmetto Health Richland;  Jeffrey R. Graham of Graham Realty and mayor of Camden;  Melissa Sprouse Browne of The Real Estate School of South Carolina and South Carolina Realty; Rozalynn B. Goodwin of SC Hospital Association and The Motherhood Priority; Kevin Lindler of First Citizens Bank; Boyd Summers of Colliers Keenan Inc.; Anne Marie Stieritz of Apprenticeship Carolina; Barbara Koosa Ryan of Grant Thorton LLP; and William W. Smith Sr. of Epiphany International/William W. Smith and Associates and Optimum Financial Services.

Again congratulations and we look forward to working with you in the future!

For more on 20 under 40, visit http://20under40.thestateonline.com/?cat=6.

-RFW

SC Access to Justice Readers’ Choice for the Holidays?

Why the Transcript of the South Carolina Supreme Court November 5th Public Hearing on Access to Justice of course!

the-court-is-in-session

Click here for the  transcript.

Many Thanks to Winkie Clark for uploading the transcript to the www.sccourts.org website and to Mary Ann Ridenour for forwarding it to SC Access to Justice!

-RFW