Access to Justice: Interpreters for the Deaf

The SC Access to Justice Commission is pleased to collaborate with the SC School for the Deaf and Blind (SCSDB), SC Court Administration, the SC Association of the Deaf (SCAD), the SC Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (SCRID), SC Legal Services (SCLS), the SC Bar Public Services Division, and Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc. (P&A) to ensure that all Deaf South Carolinians have equal access to the civil court system.

Part of that collaboration was to increase the number of qualified American Sign Language Interpreters in the courts. Well, as you may recall, last summer, the SCSDB partnered with Richland County to help 25 sign language interpreters work toward nationally recognized legal certification. And earlier this month, that’s exactly what occurred.

From January 6, 2011 through January 9, 2011, 25 sign language interpreters gathered in Richland County for “Foundations of Court Interpreting” by Carla Mathers, who is licensed to practice law in Maryland and D.C. and holds a Comprehensive Skills Certificate (CSC) and a Specialist Certificate:  Legal (SC:L) and has written a book about legal interpreting.

And the collaborators remain committed to providing quality sign language interpretation in the courts.

And many thanks to The State for its coverage of this topic!


South Carolina’s #1 Crime: Domestic Violence

Purple Ribbon Dom Viol

This morning while reading an article about Domestic Violence in The State newspaper, I became a little choked up. Why this article this morning? I don’t know for certain.

It could be because I’ve been focusing on Domestic Violence this month a little more than usual. Sure I’ve noted Domestic Violence Awareness Month each year, but this year, I’ve received information about DV while also searching for statistics as well as stories.

I don’t have to go too far to find someone I know. Even in high school one of my best friends confided in me that her boyfriend liked to hurt her. I advised her then to stop seeing him. It took a few more times of him “hurting” her before she finally did.

Then in my late twenties, one of my dear friends moved out of town to be with her “dreamy” boyfriend. Through the grapevine I heard that she was being abused. I called her up at work and asked if this was true. She didn’t want to talk about it. That was ok, I didn’t give up. Eventually I went to visit her, and meet him. At first glance, he seemed dashing and quite charming. I could see the attraction. Later though when we “girls” stayed up late chatting into the wee hours, I learned the truth. It didn’t take long for us to come up with a plan to move her back home – while he was away.

And then there’s the pro bono work I did in law school. A friend and I volunteered with the USC School of Law’s Pro Bono Program to assist the grant-sponsored Sistercare legal advocacy program. Our role was limited – we, advocate/law students, couldn’t represent the victims in court, but we could meet with them, complete the questionnaire with them, hand them tissues, hold their hands and hug them. They told us that they appreciated our help.

And one time, the attorney supervisor had another engagement and wasn’t able to appear with one of the victims. The victim, a mild-mannered woman who had been married 30+ years to the man, wasn’t able to afford an attorney. And she had nobody else to go with her into the courtroom. The volunteers were not allowed to represent the victims but were allowed to accompany them into the courtroom.

So I went. I was a little nervous. A little scared. After all, the husband was there. And so was his attorney. And then I had my “aha” moment (as Oprah calls them) – if I was nervous, how did the victim feel?

When the judge asked everyone to identify ourselves, I noted that I was the advocate and unable to represent the woman next to me. The judge allowed me to stay.

The hearing took about 15 minutes. It was evident that the woman didn’t know how to defend her claim. And I was just there to offer her a friendly hand.

After the hearing we went into the hall, where it was TENSE. The woman and I spoke on one side of the hall. The husband and his attorney spoke on the other side. I remember her telling me “I have to go back. He has all the money. I haven’t worked in 30+ years. He said it will be ok.”

I watched as she left me and walked over to her much taller, larger husband. They embraced. I felt alone and demoralized. I don’t know what she felt.

Every now and then I think about her. Is she ok? I’ll probably never know.


In Focus: Commissioner Thomas C. Keith

How much is a child in South Carolina worth?

That’s the question that Commissioner Thomas C. Keith asked in his Op-Ed in Friday’s The State newspaper.

And, it’s likely you’re not going to like the answer – LESS THAN CONNECTICUT.  A LOT LESS.

In Connecticut, each child in poverty is allocated $1,052 a year via TANF, whereas in South Carolina that same program allocates only $179 a year per child.

And in his Op-Ed, Mr. Keith is urging Congress to do the right thing, fund each child living in poverty according to poverty level, not according to “state” advantages.

Good job Commissioner Keith!


Berkowitz & Knapp: Op-Ed Take 2

Last December, Commissioner Sue Berkowitz and Columbia Business Leader Frank Knapp co-wrote an Op-Ed on Medical Spending. This morning they teamed up for a second Op-Ed – Berkowitz and Knapp: Hidden Health Tax Must End. It’s well worth the read.


Berkowitz and Knapp Tackle Medical Spending in THE STATE

In case you missed it yesterday, SC Access to Justice Commissioner Sue Berkowitz and South Carolina  Entrepreneur and U Need 2 Know Host Frank Knapp co-authored an Op-Ed Piece in The State newspaper.


Must Read: THE STATE Editorial

Again, we are pleased to recognize a Commission partner, Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina. Tom Keith, Executive Director of the Foundation, is a current member of the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission.

This has been a great week for the Sisters of Charity’s Fatherhood Initiative. On Monday, they hosted a 10 YEAR Anniversary Luncheon. Yesterday, they participated in the SC Bar Foundation’s Bankers’ Recognition (more on that later). And this morning The State newspaper printed an Editorial piece on the Fatherhood Initiative and the impact that fathers have on their children.

Statistics suggest children who grow up without their biological fathers are more likely to live in poverty, have behavioral or emotional problems, engage in crime, drop out of school or have children out of wedlock.

Please take a moment to read through the article and the positive impact of the Sisters of Charity Foundation in South Carolina via the South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families.

The Commission is pleased with the recognition of our partner and looks forward to continued collaboration and success. Congratulations Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina!


Commissioner asks for support for NON-PROFITS

On Sunday, Commissioner Thomas C. Keith of the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina wrote a letter to the Editor at The State newspaper. In the letter, he notes that in this demoralizing financial climate. it’s easy to forget the troubles other suffer and focus on our own financial situation. Instead, please consider donating what you can to assist organizations who assist vulnerable people and those already living in poverty.

Great message Tom!


Poverty in South Carolina – Grim Forecast

On Saturday, September 14, 2008, SCATJ Commissioner Sue Berkowitz wrote an Opinion piece in The State about recent poverty statistics in South Carolina.

In it, she noted: “The portion of our citizens living at or below poverty is now 15 percent, up more than 1.5 percentage points from 2001. More shameful still is our child poverty rate, which is almost 21 percent. That is 213,858 children we have let down.

And many people who aren’t living in poverty are feeling the tension of making their paychecks last all month. That is because South Carolinian’s median income actually decreased, by about $2,000 since 2000 — and that was before the recession.”

More than before, SCATJ Commission must remain steadfast within our goal to expand access to justice to South Carolinians with low income or of modest means.