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

Report of the Task Force on State Courts and the Elderly Released

Today the Supreme Court of South Carolina released the Report of the Task Force on State Courts and the Elderly.

It is well worth reading, if only to note how South Carolina demographics have changed over the years and to see predictions for our future.

Well done!

-RFW

April 23rd – That’s the BIG day for Feb 2010 SC Bar Examinees!

ALTERNATE TITLE: Why I no longer receive Martha Stewart Living.

This Friday, April 23rd, is a BIG day for February 2010 SC Bar Examinees. That’s THE day they learn if they passed the bar exam.

According to the SC Courts website:

The results of the February 2010 Bar Examination will be posted on this page at 4:00 p.m. on Friday, April 23, 2010. Additionally, a letter notifying each bar applicant of the results will be mailed on Friday, April 23, 2010. Telephonic requests for information about these results will not be accepted until 9:00 a.m. on Monday, April 26, 2010.

For any of us, this is a HUGE day to remember.

And for those of you who are curious:

Why I no longer receive Martha Stewart Living.

I took the July 1999 SC Bar Exam. The exam lasted 3 days and entailed 2 days of state-specific-topic-sensitive essays and 1 day of multiple choice questions for the multi-state exam. It was a grueling time and I have finally overcome the tic when I speak or think of it.

(Seriously though, sleep is the best study aid! It allows you to concentrate and breathe – at the same time.)

At any rate, I began my job – not yet an attorney, but no longer a student. I always corrected people when they noted that I was an attorney – “not yet, I haven’t received the bar results.” Then August passed.  September passed uneventfully. Then came October. The beginning of the month wasn’t so bad.

(Historically South Carolina announces its July Bar results at the end of October and the February results near the end of April.)

By mid-October though, the nightmares began. Fleeting thoughts of job searches would pop into my head, seemingly out of nowhere. And by the last week of October, law students began calling one another, sending emails and commiserating. Rumors abounded. Then someone at the court said results would be announced at the end of the week. Thursday it was hard to concentrate. I told my senior attorney that the results would be forthcoming on Friday. She was glad I told her.

Friday was almost untenable. At 4:00 p.m. on Friday, I walked into my office, closed the door, wiped the sweat from my brow and picked up the phone. I pulled up the call-in number and tried to dial. I exhaled and hands-shaking, I dialed the number. There was a familiar sound on the line – what WAS that sound? Why wasn’t it ringing? Oh yes, that’s the busy signal. Phew! At least I was able to dial. I tried again. No luck. Now I was shaking. I went back into my senior attorney’s office – “May I take off for the rest of the afternoon?” She was kind and smiled “yes, of course.” So, at 4:10 p.m. I slunk out of the office, trying not to meet anyone’s gaze. I drove home and picked up the phone to dial the number. I dialed and received a recording indicating that the information had been mailed and that I should receive the information the following day.

I don’t remember the rest of the evening. But early the next morning, 6:00 a.m.-ish, I awoke with a lump in my throat. I padded out of bed and upstairs to stare at papers on my home desk. My husband awoke a little later and offered to make coffee and breakfast. What? Oh yeah, please, that would be very nice.

Neither helped a nervous stomach. My husband, who had survived this process several years earlier, took pity on me and offered to take me out until the mail came. “No thanks.”

He started puttering in the garage. That way he’d be close to the mailbox. I had asked him to get the mail – just in case.

Everytime I heard a car or truck move past our home, I fluttered over to the window and peered out.

Then, around 10:00 a.m., my husband informed me that he had to pick up a part for his car, but he’d be right back. “After all” he said “mail usually arrives around 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon. It’s still early.”

I wasn’t convinced, but knew he had common sense at the moment. I acquiesced.

I tried to match his cheerful wave as I watched his car drive away, so with a toothy-grimace, I waved him on.

Toothy-grimace re-enactment

Exactly 22 seconds later, I heard a familiar engine. OH NO, it CAN’T be. It simply can’t be! Yup, the mail-truck. Sure, there wasn’t any sleet, rain or snow – but why couldn’t he be on time? Why early? Today of all days!

And I peered outside from the safety of my upstairs office. Mind you, I had left my glasses at my desk, so I had to squint. Squint I did! And then I saw him put a large manila-type package into the box. I burst into tears!

[NOTE: When you pass the SC Bar exam, typically you receive a regular envelope with a congratulatory letter. When you do NOT pass the SC Bar exam, typically you receive a manila envelope with an application enclosed.]

Back to the tears. I was inconsolable. My thoughts crowded:

  • Oh no, I’m going to have to look for a job!
  • How am I going to face my classmates.
  • Everyone will think I’m stupid.
  • OH NO! I studied for that exam like I’ve never studied before. If I can’t pass this one, what makes me think I can pass another?
  • THREE YEARS. Three years of my life. WASTED!

I could go on, but you get the picture.

I sat on the top stair. Nose running. Eyes flowing. Face buried in my hand. Sobbing. Gulping. Sobbing. My whole body convulsing.

I didn’t even hear my husband come in.

I didn’t hear him say “I’ll go pick up the mail.”

I didn’t hear him say “YOU’VE PASSED! YOU’VE PASSED! YOU’VE PASSED! – It’s a SMALL WHITE ENVELOPE! YOU’VE PASSED!”

He brought the letter to me. I pulled my head up. I tried to read the letters on the page, but they were all blurry. Why can’t I read? Oh yea, you have to stop crying. I did. Finally. My husband watched expectantly.

I felt jubilation. I passed.

Wait, what was that manila-envelope thing I’d seen the mailman deposit into our box? OH, Martha Stewart Living magazine with a paper cover. Sorry Martha, but I never renewed.

– RFW

Massachusetts Releases Interim Report on Access to Justice

Just last month, the Massachusetts Court System released its  Interim Report on Access to Justice Initiatives (Massachusetts), specifically initiatives in the Trial Court. This initiative is not to replace the work of their Access to Justice Commission, but to enhance it, as noted in the report itself.

Much of their work mirrors what we in South Carolina are doing.

They are reviewing progress in other states:

  • looking at developing forms and interactive websites for self-represented litigants;
  • reviewing implications and feasibility of limited scope representation aka unbundled legal services;
  • exploring ways to develop court service centers;
  • increasing access to the courts for those with Limited English Proficiency (LEP).

They are reviewing challenges within their current system:

Their consensus? Action toward providing:

  • services for court users with limited or no English language skills, including staff who can speak and read other languages,
  • instructional materials in other languages, and court forms in other languages;
  • technology, including wireless (internet) access in courthouses, MassCourts public access, and court forms that can be completed on-line;
  • self-help centers and materials; and
  • child care centers.

What’s fascinating? This came about through a survey to court personnel. Often we hear that the government is full of bureaucratic red tape.

What’s encouraging? That this very government is working to make the process easier for us to navigate – during a time of economic crisis.

Kudos Massachusetts! We’ll be watching your progress and wish you well throughout the process.

-RFW

Quetzaltepec Mixe in the courtroom?

At the past year’s ATJ public hearings, I learned  how pervasive the language-barrier can be in a courtroom.

South Carolina law mandates foreign-language interpreters in court proceedings. Spanish and American Sign Language interpreters were two of the most needed within the South Carolina court system.  Court interpreter certification, compensation and procedural mechanisms for obtaining a court interpreter are several of the issues that have been raised in working towards the goal of creating easy access to much-needed court interpreters.

Another issue that arises in the context of court interpreters is when a party to a proceeding does not speak English, it is useful to have multiple interpreters in the courtroom to ensure a fair proceeding.

The state of California also mandates foreign-language interpreters in courtroom proceedings.

California’s court interpreter assignment operation has over 100 languages represented by its interpreters.  The court has less stringent standards for more unusual languages, but this article I found in the L.A. Times illustrates the great lengths some CA courts have gone to in order to provide the appropriate interpreter to a litigant.

The article also does an excellent job of highlighting many problems faced by litigants who are not provided with the appropriate interpreter in courtroom proceedings. Not only are these litigants unable to articulate answers to questions and fully present their side of the story, but judges and attorneys can become impatient when litigants have problems answering simple questions, and court transcripts are usually only in English, so the potential for a miscarriage of justice because of a simple translation error increases.

Nonetheless, no case in CA has been thrown out because an interpreter was unable to be found.

While it is unlikely that a litigant in a South Carolina courtroom will need a Quetzaltepec Mixe interpreter anytime soon, SCATJ, in conjunction with court administration and other players have taken the need for courtroom interpreters seriously and have been working diligently to resolve many issues surrounding the provision of court interpreters.

-Alex

If you missed it, you have another chance to view it

South Carolina State of the Judiciary Online

In case you missed the South Carolina State of the Judiciary yesterday, you can now view it online on the South Carolina Courts’ website.

 Yesterday, Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal of the South Carolina Supreme Court delivered the South Carolina State of the Judiciary. The video with full audio and the PowerPoint slides are available online.

-RFW

The Move toward Plain English

As you may recall, there have been posts and discussions at the regional public hearings about “legalese” and its exclusivity. While the South Carolina courts are in the process of moving toward Plain English, it’s important to recognize that this is an issue facing many other courts as well.

Well, there is help out there for English speakers and writers – in the form of blogs, articles and other resources – as I was recently reminded by Vickie Britton.

Thanks for bringing this back to our attention. This is an important issue for many South Carolinians.

-RFW

For your reading pleasure, check out:

Tennessee latest to add Access to Justice

On Friday, December 5th, the Tennessee Supreme Court announced an Access to Justice Initiative. Chief Justice Janice Holder offered a few remarks as to outline measures of the initiative as well as some general information as to the necessity of the initiative.

Only one in five income-eligible people will receive the legal help they need.

In our current troubled economy, the need for civil legal services among Tennessee’s indigent and working poor families can only be expected to increase as they face more legal problems caused by unemployment, predatory loans, uninsured medical bills, domestic violence, evictions, and foreclosures.

We send our best wishes to Tennessee with this initiative and offer our support. Congratulations and welcome aboard!

-RFW

Hey Self-Represented Litigants – courts are working WITH you!

As we’ve reported before, Self-Represented Litigants (SRLs) are increasing in courts around the country. In the past, most courts discouraged SRLs due to court inefficiency and potential loss of rights.

These concerns remain, but as the economy tightens, reality settles in – more people will be unable to pay for private representation and legal services organizations are already stretched thin. Without representation, they’ll continue to turn to the courts.

But where will they turn for assistance? To unscrupulous online companies? Anecdotes abound about people showing up in courts with forms they purchased online – sometimes for hundreds of dollars. By using these forms, people complete the information and pay the filing fee, which isn’t cheap. One story was that a person completed the divorce form but listed the grounds of the action as “irreconcilable differences.”

QUICK FACTSouth Carolina does not recognize irreconcilable differences as grounds for divorce. See S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-10 (1976).

In South Carolina, the SC Access to Justice Commission is committed to developing initiatives that assist people as they enter the courtrooms without an attorney. As a result, the Commission has been working on court approved forms for SRLs in divorce actions based on a one-year separation.

And South Carolina is not alone.

According to a news report from probono.net, an increasing number of courts around the country using online document assembly to assist self-represented litigants.

-RFW

Clerks of Court Plan for Public Access

The South Carolina Access to Justice Commission’s Clerk of Court Work Group met on Friday, September 26, 2008, to discuss ways to implement access to the courts without crossing ethical boundaries. Dean Robert M. Wilcox of the USC School of Law provided ethical training for the clerks including a Q&A session.

Q&A with Dean Wilcox
Q&A with Dean Wilcox
Dean Wilcox discusses ethics
Dean Wilcox discusses ethics

Dean Wilcox noted that ethical guidelines have been put in place to protect the public from advice that causes them to rely on and change their legal position. He cited a few legal cases and also gave practical information to the clerks.

Clerks discuss issues 9-26-08
Clerks discuss issues 9-26-08
Ethics - Serious Topic
Ethics - Serious Topic

Afterward, Robin Wheeler and Stephanie Nye provided updates about signage to post in the courthouses and the Frequently Asked Questions survey.

 

Robin Wheeler discusses progress on signage
Robin Wheeler discusses progress on signage
Stephanie Nye gathers the FAQs
Stephanie Nye gathers the FAQs

During lunch, the clerks divided into two subgroups – Circuit Court and Family Court. In each of these subgroups, the clerks discussed next steps and initiatives.

Circuit Court subgroup discusses important issues
Circuit Court subgroup discusses important issues

 

Family Court subgroup discussion
Family Court subgroup discussion
The group will continue to meet and discuss access for all South Carolinians.
-RFW