Understand?

What?
What?

One word can make a huge difference. It’s what comes before and what follows that’s equally important, especially in court.

There’s a good article in the New York Times about the study, Language Access in the Courts, by the Brennan Center for Justice about the necessity of understanding the proceedings not only in criminal cases but in civil cases too.

Interpreters in the courts is an issue that was identified by the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission via the 2008 public hearings – both for South Carolinians who are deaf and those with limited English proficiency (LEP). Since that time, we have been working on ways to improve interpretation in the courts.

If you’re curious about law/summaries for interpretation in South Carolina courts or other states, the study is worth a read. Or if you want a quick peek, check out the NY Times article.

-RFW

South Carolina, Subject of Washington Post Article

Columbia, South Carolina (my hometown) is featured today in More Need, Less Help by Amy Goldstein at the Washington Post.

The subject is that as South Carolina’s ranking rises in unemployment and the financial crisis spirals out of control, the need for assistance rises.

  • South Carolinians are out-of-work.

  • South Carolinians are hungry. 

  • South Carolinians cannot pay rent or mortgages. 

  • South Carolinians are going without medication.

  • South Carolinians are worried about their children and their futures.

Food pantries like Harvest Hope are working as hard as they can to fill orders. But their supplies are running short.

Other charities, like the United Way of South Carolina, United Way of the Midlands, the Central Carolina Community Foundation, the Family Service Center, and the Salvation Army, are working round the clock to assist, but their donations are dwindling as well.

Excerpts:

Timothy Ervolina, president of the United Way Association of South Carolina, worries that the web of philanthropic and nonprofit groups may not be able to fulfill the governor’s [Sanford] expectations. Ervolina has watched fundraising fade at United Ways across the state, even as calls pour in to their crisis hotlines.

. . .

South Carolina Legal Services, a statewide network that gives free legal help, in July received the biggest grant handed out by the South Carolina Bar Foundation but in January was asked to return 15 percent of it.

The time to act is now. If you can afford to make a donation, please do so.

Your donation may offer someone else hope. Hope to carry on. Hope for their children. Hope to live.

Thanks Washington Post for sharing the story of Columbia, SC!

-RFW

CRBR Features South Carolina Interactive Foreclosure Map

For those of us who enjoy interactive websites, Columbia Regional Business Report (CRBR) has one that details foreclosure data for South Carolina.

While it may not be as much fun as an online IQ test or popcap game, it does offer some insight into the problem facing many South Carolinians as we work through the recession.

Thanks CRBR for posting this.

-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

SC ATJ New Year’s Wishes or Resolutions?

COUNTDOWN TO 2009

rfw-hny092

As the New Year’s wishes and resolutions are starting to pour in, I’ve had a few moments to ponder Access to Justice resolutions for 2009. Before I lose count of the many goals for 2009, I thought I’d share a few.

12. South Carolina Access to Justice will develop a working relationship with legal paraprofessionals throughout the state.

11. Technology advances such as instant messaging, podcasts, YouTube videos, and email allow greater communication to and for people in need of low-cost legal services, especially when transportation imposes a barrier.

10. The Commission and partner organizations reach solutions to the need for interpreters for individuals who are Deaf and with Limited English Proficiency (LEP).

9.  South Carolina law students, both USC School of Law and Charleston School of Law students, become engaged in access to justice and collaborate with the Commission for creative solutions.

8. South Carolina attorneys recognize the opportunity that unbundled or limited scope legal services can provide to South Carolinians with low income or of modest means, especially during this financial climate while sustaining the attorney’s practice at the same time.

7. SC Access to Justice establishes a library workgroup to assist self-represented litigants (SRLs) with access to approved, free legal forms (http://www.sccourts.org/forms/indexSelfHelp.cfm) and to establish a long-lasting partnership with libraries.

6. All South Carolinians who are unable to afford an attorney can reach one access point for all South Carolina legal service organizations.

5. Every County Courthouse will house or have access to a nearby self-help center for self-represented litigants.

4. Every county self-help center will be staffed for a minimum of 5 hours per week by pro bono attorneys.

3. Every South Carolina licensed attorney completes at least 50 hours of pro bono service as per ABA Model Rule 6.1 VOLUNTARY PRO BONO SERVICE.

2. The Second Pilot Lawyer Mentor Program incorporates the aspirational Pro Bono expectation and that it becomes a “shall” instead of a “should.”

1. That ALL South Carolinians have equal access to the law and its remedies without regard to their economic status.

Happy New Year!

-RFW

Three Dog Night or Kool and the Gang?

Celebrate, celebrate, dance to the music. OR. Celebrate good times, come on.

The nation is experiencing a financial meltdown. People are losing their jobs in record numbers. Legal Service organizations and normally stable law firms are experiencing reductions or freezes in their workforce, many for the first time ever. And soon we’ll whisk in a new year.

This is definitely not the time to celebrate, right? Wrong.

Wait, what?

It’s exactly the time for us to celebrate what so many of us ARE accomplishing. This is the time for us to rally behind each other and support one another.

Why?

Because the numbers don’t lie. Recently I asked South Carolina Legal Services whether the current crisis had any effect on the requests for service they had received. Here is what I received:

Comparison figures for applicants seeking SCLS services:

 

Jan. 1, 2007 – Dec. 15, 2007                Jan.1, 2008 – Dec. 15, 2008

Cases Accepted          7,281                       Cases Accepted          8,375 ( +1,094)

Cases Denied             3,395                         Cases Denied              3,249 ( -149)

TOTAL CASES             10,676                      TOTAL CASES             11,624 ( + 948)

 

  That’s almost a thousand more applicants coming through SCLS intake this year-to-date as compared to the same period last year.

 

There is also an increase in the consumer and employment cases SCLS closed this year:

 

2007 closed cases              2008 closed cases (12/15/08)        Difference

 Bankruptcy-275                         Bankruptcy-315                                       +40 cases

Collect’ n (incl Repo.)-265      Collect’n-277                                             +12 cases

Total Consumer-737                 Total Consumer-792                              +55 cases

 

Employment cases-117           Employment cases-273                        +156 cases

 

Housing-952                                 Housing -780                                            -172 cases

  

There’s even more difference in cases ACCEPTED:

 

2007 (Jan – Dec 15)                    2008 (Jan – Dec 15)              Difference

 Bankruptcy                    316              448                                                    +132

Total Consumer           812                1,075                                                +263

 

Total Employment      214                410                                                    +196

 

Total Housing                1,049            976                                                    -73(no HUD counseling grant in 2008)        

  

Additionally, there were 2,654 more calls answered at the SCLS Call Center through November 2008 over the same period last year.

 

About this time, you’re probably thinking, why celebrate? Doesn’t this simply confirm what everyone has been saying – we’re in a recession; more people need legal assistance; and legal assistance resources are being cut in record numbers. And you’re right, these numbers ARE horrific. And we could wallow. BUT let’s take a moment to recognize the good that HAS been done this year.

 

SCLS assisted 8,375 new clients this year. That’s 8,375 people who were given hope. That’s 8,375 people who probably were wondering what they would do if they lost their home, their job, their medical benefits. That’s 8.375 people whose request was taken seriously. That’s 8,375 people who received access to justice.

 

Sure, it’s likely that not all of the 8,375 individuals won their cases. But it is likely that having someone to listen to them and fight for their civil rights meant something incredible for every one of those 8,375 individuals.

 

You’ve had an opportunity to read about some of those individuals in this blog and I hope to continue to share their stories.

 

And I hope that your holiday is filled with peace and that you take a moment to celebrate the successes of South Carolina Legal Services, the South Carolina Bar Pro Bono volunteer attorneys, and everyone else who has been involved in the worthy cause to make access to justice a reality for all South Carolinians, regardless of their financial status.

 

I will be traveling next week and although I’ll attempt to check in, I may be “off the grid.”  If so, I wish you all a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hannukah, a Meaningful Kwanzaa and peace until then.

 

-RFW

In Maryland 75% of Family Law Disputes Involve Self-Represented Litigants

According to a recent article in The Daily Record, 3 out of 4 family law disputes involve at least one self-represented party. In South Carolina, we are continuing to gather statistics but it’s likely that our numbers are similar. And in the current economic climate, it’s likely that these numbers will continue to increase.

The South Carolina Access to Justice (SCATJ) Commission has been addressing this issue from the Court’s standpoint, by training judges and working with clerks of court. In addition, the SCATJ Commission has been working with Court Administration to develop forms and instructions for self-represented litigants (SRLs). We’ve sent delegations to two conferences and started work groups as a result.

SCATJ has spoken with recognized SRL experts such as Richard Zorza and John Greacen as well as others. Commissioners have been inspired by New Hampshire Chief Justice John T. Broderick.

SCATJ has been reviewing information from other states about ways that their public law libraries assist with SRLs. SCATJ has been working with legal partners including South Carolina Legal Services and the South Carolina Bar to develop videos and other instructional packets for SRLs as well as find ways to increase legal representation to South Carolinians who cannot afford it.

The primary goal is to provide attorney representation for all. Attorneys provide not only good legal advice, but sensible counsel as well. Attorneys are trained to review the issue from many angles and provide information that allows individuals to make well-reasoned decisions.

Until attorneys for all becomes a reality, the SCATJ Commission is resolved to decrease barriers for people to represent themselves. The SCATJ Commission has a dedicated SRL Committee whose sole purpose is to address this issue. We welcome your ideas. Please feel free to post.

– RFW