February 2012 Newsletter

We are pleased to share our latest newsletter.

SCATJC February2012

If you have questions, please feel free to email me.

~RFW

Watch SC State of the Judiciary LIVE!

Today at 12:00 noon (EST), South Carolina Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal will deliver the annual State of the Judiciary at a joint session of the General Assembly.

Earlier today, the South Carolina Court News announced that the speech will be broadcast live on the South Carolina House of Representative’s Live Broadcast Chamber Video. Please note that you will need to have Adobe Flash Player in order to watch the presentation.

And if you are not able to view it live, the South Carolina Court News will announce its archived address (thank you SCETV) as soon as possible after the address.

-RFW

South Carolina State of the Judiciary: 2/25/09

Tune in for the South Carolina State of the Judiciary on February 25, 2009 at 12:00 p.m. Chief Justice Jean H. Toal will deliver the address to the General Assembly which will also be broadcast live on the Internet and archived for later viewing. 

To access the live broadcast, go to this page.

Move to the bottom of the page and find links located under the heading Live Broadcasts for the House of Representatives. Click on your computer’s player.

sc-legis-online-with-arrow

For those unable to watch the live broadcast, SCETV will provide an archived version.  Details for the archived version will be available on the Court’s website.

-RFW

GA State of the Judiciary – Portentous

Georgia Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears

delivers Georgia State of the Judiciary

Yesterday Georgia’s Chief Justice delivered the Georgia State of the Judiciary to the state legislators. In it, she noted that access to justice continues to play a large role in the function of the judiciary.

Although Georgia and South Carolina are geographic neighbors, we also have similar interests regarding access to justice during this trying economic crisis.

Excerpts from her speech from the Rome News Tribune:

The judicial system’s budget is less than one percent of the overall state budget, but we play a huge role in protecting the safety and security of Georgia citizens. Unfortunately, like others in state government, we have had to slash our budget to the bone. We have reduced personnel and cut our expenditures. 

Because of the effects of the nation’s bad economy, people will need access to justice now more than ever. We already see this happening. The number of mortgage foreclosure cases in Georgia is at an all time high. Debt collection has increased dramatically. We may also begin to see an increase in other types of problems that typically escalate during tough economic times, such as crime, child abuse, domestic violence and substance abuse. . . .  Administering justice under the law is a function that only government can fulfill. The determination of guilt and innocence, property rights and parental rights, legal privileges and power are judgments only government can make. Administering justice is one of the reasons governments exist. If we neglect this fundamental obligation to the people, we break trust with them, and ultimately, lose their confidence. And for government, public trust and confidence is everything.

For the full text, click here.

-RFW

Budget Cuts: Georgia & South Carolina

A State Budget Crisis is continuing to stretch an already thinly stretched court system. South Carolina has been humming this tune for a while now. Sounds familiar, right?

South Carolina has fewer judges with a heavier caseload than any other court system in the nation

SC has the highest number of general jurisdiction non-traffic case filings per judge (4,180) in the country.  The next highest is 3,147 in North Carolina

SC has the fewest number of general jurisdiction judges per capita in the country at 1.1 per 100,000 population

SC’s general jurisdiction civil caseload increased 68% in the 10 years from 1996 to 2006[1]

FY[2]          APPROPRIATIONS                 FINES & FEES         FED’L FUNDS       TTL SPENT        

99-00       $41,065,091                         $54,781                   $0                            $41,119,872

00-01       $46,486,500                            $66,575                 $0                            $46,553,075

01-02       $39,014,860                         $2,849,873           $928,311               $42,793,044

02-03       $35,685,629                         $6,683,806           $2,897,322           $45,266,757

03-04       $31,849,253                            $10,105,241         $5,831,459              $47,785,953

04-05       $32,650,207                         $12,207,897         $4,664,535           $49,522,639

05-06       $33,958,408                         $14,390,096         $5,755,279           $54,103,783

06-07       $36,631,439                         $15,065,443         $5,053,703           $56,750,585

07-08       $38,101,765                         $15,323,985            $5,000,000           $58,425,750[3]

Now it’s happening in Georgia according to an article by Protecting Civil Justice, a blog by the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association.

While criminal litigants can often take advantage of speedy trial demands to move their cases through the court system, civil litigants have no such rights and cases can drag on for years before reaching trial. At least one judicial district has temporarily suspended all civil trials because of crowded dockets.

You may be asking whether the number of judges has an affect access to justice. Yes, it does. It has a LOT to do with access to justice.

While it’s true that many cases settle before going to trial, many an attorney has realized that the possibility of a trial, especially a public trial involving an egregious civil rights’ action, can often bring about the same or sometimes better result as actually going to trial. BUT sometimes a person just wants their day in court. And the facts of the action are such that it’s appropriate to continue to the court and let either the judge or the jury decide the remedy.

THIS is when access to justice is affected by budget cuts in the judiciary.

For example, a female victim of domestic abuse has finally left her abusive spouse. Although she has been able to shield her children and herself from continued assault, she has no money for daily living expenses and really cannot continue to feed and clothe her children. She needs to go in front of the judge to petition for child support. Let’s even concede that she has no trouble finding an attorney to assist.

Ok, her attorney files the petition. Her case is assigned a date on the court calendar. Hurray, right?

Not so fast. The court date is four months away due to budget shortfalls and lack of judges.

She has to decide – go back to the abuse or stay away. If she goes back she may die. If she goes back, her children may be harmed. If she goes back, the cycle continues. BUT the children will have food and clothing. And so will she.

But if she stays away, she may become homeless. And maybe he’ll call DSS to have her children taken away.

True, this is one example. One egregious example that is also a very real possibility.  

Please consider access to justice when you think about budget cuts in the judiciary. It affects a lot more than it appears.

 -RFW

[1] Slide 11 of 28 from the 2008 State of the Judiciary found online at http://www.sccourts.org/whatsnew/SOJ2008/StateOfJudiciary2008_files/frame.htm

[2] [2] Information based on Slide 9 of 28 from the 2008 State of the Judiciary, http://www.sccourts.org/whatsnew/SOJ2008/StateOfJudiciary2008_files/frame.htm

[3] Projected