SC Supreme Court News: Revisions to the Self-Represented Litigant Simple Divorce Packet

Earlier today the Supreme Court of South Carolina issued an Order with Revisions to the Self-Represented Litigant Simple Divorce Packet based upon suggestions from the legal community to the SC Access to Justice Commission.

Changes include:

  1. Addition of a sample script for the Plaintiff;
  2. Paragraphs 1 and 2 have been added to Page 1 so the parties can provide the county and state of their residency;
  3. Paragraph 3 of Page 1 has been added so the parties can provide the county and state where they last shared a residence;
  4. Paragraph 4 has been revised to allow the Plaintiff to select the length of time the parties have lived in South Carolina; and
  5. The statement “If no name change is requested, please leave blank” is added at the end of Paragraph B on page 3.
The instructions for completing the Simple Divorce Packet have been revised to reflect these changes.

-RFW

Guest Blogger: Daniel Kim

Recently, I have been given the opportunity to work at the SC Access to Justice Commission (SCATJ) by being appointed as a “BFF,” a bar foundation fellow. The program is known as the South Carolina Bar Foundation Public Interest Fellows Project, which was started to increase student awareness of public interest law. It also offers public legal service organizations the help they need to accomplish the work they do for the public. Now you may wonder what SCATJ is and what the organization does; I know I did. But one of the great things about this program is that it gives students a chance to learn about public interest organizations that they did not know existed.

SCATJ is faced with the difficult challenge of “ensuring access to justice for all South Carolinians.” This organization was created to help people with low income and modest means obtain access to the South Carolina court system. One of their programs is geared towards self-represented litigants, and that is the field I have done the most amount of work. One of my major projects since starting here has been to work on an information guide for different counties within the judicial district of the new Newberry County Self-Help Center. Often times, self-represented litigants forego hiring an attorney due to lack of financial means. However, these litigants often go into court with no resources or knowledge of the SC legal and court system. They do not understand the legalese in forms, the process to properly fill out court documents and forms, and court policies and procedures, such as service of process.

SCATJ tries to provide self-represented litigants with guidelines and resources so that they may enter the court with more knowledge of the system. Chief Justice Toal has spearheaded the movement to streamline polices and procedures and have records be automated through the use of the Internet. This has enabled all courts in different SC counties to have similar paperwork.

The reason I came to law school was to help those in need and make an impact in the community. As cliché as that may sound, my passion and desire to achieve this goal is the reason I applied to be a “BFF” and the reason I want to become an attorney. The goals of SCATJ align with the goals I seek to accomplish after law school, and this is the sole reason I wanted to take part in this opportunity. This has been an invaluable learning experience for me thus far. I have learned a lot about public interest law, SC law, and the challenges everyday South Carolinians face to acquire what we, as law students, sometimes take for granted: obtaining justice. It has been a pleasure to work here at the SCATJ, and I look forward to continuing to work here in order to give back more to the community while continuing to learn and grow from this experience.

-Daniel Kim

New Jersey Speaks for SRLs

I was pleased to see this video available from the New Jersey Courts. It’s a brief introduction for SRLs on where to find information about the courts. And what I found even more interesting is the concept of a Court Ombudsman.

Note: I found info about Court or Judicial Ombudsman from New Jersey, Maryland and Michigan. If anyone knows of other similar programs, please let me know.

FABULOUS IDEA!

Way to go New Jersey!

-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

Change can appear Radical

At 11:59 p.m. Monday the comment period for the South Carolina SRL Simple Divorce Packet drew to a close.  The final comment slid in right under the deadline – at 11:53 p.m.

From the initial response when the packet was posted, I have to admit I expected a lot more response than the 16 comments from 14 people. The comment period was officially open from April 2, 2009 until June 1, 2009.

Thank you very much to the people who did respond. Most of the comments were insightful and helpful and the Commission will review the information and in some cases, may implement some of the suggested changes.

And thanks to those of you who express doubt about the effectiveness of these documents. You may not believe me, but your comments were and are welcome.

As with most any area within the practice of law, the process of developing these forms (and the others to come) is not an easy task. Law is gray. There are rarely easy answers.

As attorneys we are trained to analyze and guard our clients against pitfalls. Our letters are carefully crafted. Our court documents must provide sufficient information to make our case. Each word holds specific meaning. Each sentence should be clear and concise. There should be no doubt about the repercussions.

So yes, I am glad you expressed concern about people going into court without our protection. In my perfect world, we would have attorneys available for all who enter our hallowed courtrooms.

But in reality, it’s much different.

  • In reality, many people are losing their jobs, their homes, their lives as they know it.
  • In reality, many people are unable to pay a $50 consultation fee, much less the $450 fee that one of you offered.
  • In reality, many people are unable to pay the $150 filing fee for their divorce.
  • In reality, many people have been entering the courtrooms on their own without attorneys, without having attended one of the many legal clinics offered by South Carolina Legal Services or the South Carolina Bar.
  • In reality, forms are already available online – some for free, some for a price.
  • In reality, videos are already available online to teach people how to file on their own.
  • In reality, people have a right to file on their own, with or without attorneys.

With or without attorneys, really? REALLY!

Section 35 of the Judiciary Act of 1789:

And be it further enacted, That in all courts of the United States, the parties may plead and manage their own causes personally or by assistance of such counsel or attorneys at law as by the rules of the said courts respectively shall be permitted to manage and conduct causes therein. And there shall be appointed in each district a meet person learned in the law to act as attorney for the United States in such district, who shall be sworn or affirmed to the faithful execution of his office, whose duty it shall be to prosecute in such district all delinquents for crimes and offences, cognizable under the authority of the United States, and all civil actions in which the United States shall be concerned, except before the supreme court in the district in which that court shall be holden. And he shall receive as compensation for his services such fees as shall be taxed therefor in the respective courts before which the suits or prosecutions shall be. And there shall also be appointed a meet person, learned in the law, to act as attorney-general for the United States, who shall be sworn or affirmed to a faithful execution of his office; whose duty it shall be to prosecute and conduct all suits in the Supreme Court in which the United States shall be concerned, and to give his advice and opinion upon questions of law when required by the President of the United States, or when requested by the heads of any of the departments, touching any matters that may concern their departments, and shall receive such compensation for his services as shall by law be provided. (emphasis added)

The radical move of adding a packet for people to represent themselves in court may not be quite so radical. After all, the concept of appearing pro se or representing oneself is over 200 years old. But it is change. And change is . . . well . . . change, scary, different, not the same, not operating the same as usual.

Thanks again to all who commented. Your input really is of value and very much appreciated.

-RFW

Photos from the SRL film shoot

Last week I noted that we were in the midst of filming some training videos. Below are some photos from the shoot. Stay tuned for more photos . . .

jason-and-warren-readying-the-equipment-for-srl-clips

warren-and-jeremy-reviewing-the-shot

 

baxleylastminutescriptreview

nyebaxley

baxleynyefrazierstokesholland

thatisawrap

-RFW

Congratulations Justice Zelon!

richard-zorzajustice-broderickjustice-zelon

Los Angeles County Bar Association selects Justice

Laurie D. Zelon to receive the Shattuck-Price

Outstanding Attorney Award!

I first heard Justice Zelon speak at Harvard while participating in a Self-Represented Litigant Network training. Then this past autumn, I participated in a small group led by Justice Zelon and she was a featured presenter. And I can understand completely why she was selected for this award.

Congratulations Justice Zelon!

-RFW