It’s official – Poster and FAQs online – en español

Good News!  ¡Buenas noticias!

The South Carolina Courts’ Self-Help Page now offers FAQs (General Questions, Circuit Court and Family Court) and an explanation about what court staff can and cannot in Spanish!

And many thanks to student volunteers with the USC School of Law’s Pro Bono Program and the kind folks at HABLA!

-RFW

SCATJ Trains Magistrates

Yesterday the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission was pleased to be part of the Orientation for South Carolina Magistrates held at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy.

Here is the presentation: Courtroom JUSTICE FOR ALL including SRLs July 2009

Here are some photos from the training:

A question about SRLs
A question about SRLs
Stephanie Nye presents
Stephanie Nye presents
Stephanie responding to a question
Stephanie responding to a question
Magistrates in the classroom
Magistrates in the classroom
Robin speaking
Robin speaking
-RFW

Photos from 6.17.09 Commission Meeting

Yesterday the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission held its meeting from 10:30 a.m. until a few minutes after 2:00 p.m. We were fortunate to start the morning with presentations from two Commissioners who work with Philanthropic Organizations – Tom Keith of Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina and Mac Bennett of United Way of the Midlands.
Commissioner Tom Keith Presents
Commissioner Tom Keith Presents
Commissioner Mac Bennett presents
Commissioner Mac Bennett presents

Several guests were in attendance as we discussed issues related to Staffed Programs such as South Carolina Legal Services and initiatives relating to Self-Represented Litigants.

Commissioners and guests at the 6.17.09 meeting
Commissioners and guests at the 6.17.09 meeting
The Hon. Michelle Childs, Chief Admin Judge of the SC 5th Circuit, and Tanya Gee of the SC Court of Appeals discuss SRLs
The Hon. Michelle Childs, Chief Admin Judge of the SC 5th Circuit, and Tanya Gee of the SC Court of Appeals discuss SRLs
The Commission then discussed progress on Rule 608 with members of the work group in attendance.
Louise Cooper of the SC GAL program and Hugh Ryan of SC Commission on Indigent Defense
Louise Cooper of the SC GAL program and Hugh Ryan of SC Commission on Indigent Defense
Commissioners and Guests
Commissioners and Guests
Allie Bullard, our Pro Bono law clerk, working hard at the meeting
Allie Bullard, our Pro Bono law clerk, working hard at the meeting

 Special thanks to Cindy Sullivan, Willson Powell, and Jada Bannen of Nelson Mullins for their assistance!

Photographs by Stephanie A. Nye.

-RFW

Social Justice

Yesterday I had the distinct honor and pleasure to present South Carolina Access to Justice to Professor Susan Kuo’s Social Justice class at USC School of Law. I was pleased to share video from the Commission’s public hearings as well as field questions from the students.

If you’re interested in viewing my presentation, click here.

-RFW

More SRLs: Are Lawyers too Costly or Simply Sign of Hard Times?

That’s the question coming out of Connecticut this week, see Connecticut Law Tribune article here. Whatever the answer, the numbers of Self-Represented Litigants or SRLs is on the rise. The trend isn’t limited to Connecticut either. Recent conversations with family court judges, clerks of court and masters-in-equity have indicated that South Carolina is also part of the trend.

The challenges faced by other court systems also mirror what is happening in South Carolina. SRLs are not familiar with procedures to meet minimal requirements such as notifying the other party or service of process. Even if they meet procedural requirements they may not understand some of the documents themselves. They may not even complete all the necessary forms.

Additionally, attorneys have a reputation for using their own language, also known as legalese. The phrases in legal documents often are in Latin, not English. The South Carolina Access to Justice Commission is working with the courts to ensure that court documents are written in Plain English whenever possible.

Clerks of Court in South Carolina have also noted the rise in SRLs. Members of the public often ask for forms, then ask for help completing them. Or they may ask for advice from the clerk of whether to bring the action. Clerks are wary of responding – not because they don’t want to help, but because they don’t want to overstep into the practice of law – the unauthorized practice of law. In South Carolina, there are established laws indicating that only attorneys licensed in South Carolina may practice law in South Carolina. Legal advice is considered the practice of law. The South Carolina Access to Justice Commission is also working to address this question by developing signage clearly indicating what clerks can and cannot do. And the Commission is working with a clerk of court work group to educate clerks and the general public about the fine line between advice and information.

Judges note that they too have ethical dilemmas. When SRLs appear in their courtrooms and miss relevant pieces of their cases, the judges want to help but they too have boundaries. They may not help one side to the detriment of another.

SRLs have arrived and South Carolina is working to address the issue of increased numbers of SRLs in the courts.

But it may take a little while.

Thanks for your patience.

-RFW

In the News: Commissioner Sue Berkowitz

Forbes.com features a story about Medicaid in South Carolina and Commissioner Sue Berkowitz is quoted in the article.

According to the Forbes article:

A deal reached Thursday will send $173 million immediately to South Carolina’s Medicaid programs to restore money lost to budget cuts for everything from cancer treatments to wheelchair ramps.

-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