SRLs – A Start

For those of you interested in learning where to start to learn more about self-represented litigants in South Carolina, here’s my cheat sheet:

Resources

1.         Online

A.  South Carolina:

B.  National:

  • http://www.selfhelpsupport.org/ – Members include judges, clerks, court staff, legal aid advocates, bar association representatives, law school faculty, researchers, and others who work to increase access to justice.
  • http://www.srln.org/ – The Self-Represented Litigation Network brings together courts and access to justice organizations in support of innovations in services for the self represented
  • http://devlegacy.ncsc.org/WC/CourTopics/ResourceGuide.asp?topic=ProSe – The National Center for State Courts’ Self-Representation Resource Guide.
  • http://www.ajs.org/prose/home.asp – The American Judicature Society’s Pro Se Forum.
  • http://www.lri.lsc.gov/prose/prose.asp – The Pro Se Section of the Legal Services Corporation Resource Library focuses on practices to help legal services programs empower low-income clients to help themselves through pro se advocacy.
  • http://www.abanet.org/legalservices/delivery/delunbund.html – The American Bar Association’s Pro Se/Unbundling Resource Center. This site has been developed as a project of the ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services. It is designed as a resource to help lawyers, bar leaders, the judiciary, court administrators, scholars and the media better understand and critically analyze the issues involved in self-representation and unbundled legal services.

C.  Other States:

  • http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/selfhelp/ – The California Courts Online Self-Help Center which helps self-represented litigants find assistance and information, work better with an attorney, and represent themselves in some legal matters.
  • http://www.legalhotlines.org/ – AARP’s Florida senior Legal Helpline Honored by State Coalition.

2.         Attachments

I’m sure there will be more to come, but this should give you a start!

And many thanks to probono.net for supporting many of these platforms.

-RFW

No paper towels, only legal paper

This may seem like a strange title for a post, but recently I received an email from South Carolina Court Administration indicating that Clerks of Court are having to reject pleadings at a higher rate due to an increase of non-conformance with Rule 10, SCRCP.

For new attorneys and self-represented litigants, it may be a good idea to review Rule 10 of the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure which governs Form of Pleadings.

Here is Section (a) of Rule 10. Please note the numbered arrows correspond with bracketed numbers in the text.

(a) Caption, Name of Parties. Every pleading shall contain a caption setting forth the name of the State [1] and County[1], the name of the Court[6], the title of the action[5], the file number [4]and a designation as in Rule 7(a). In the summons and complaint the title of the action shall include the names of all parties[2][3], but in other pleadings it is sufficient to state the name of the first party on each side with an appropriate indication of other parties.

Caption with arrows

Note this entire portion is called the CAPTION.

Please note that there will not be a docket number [4] until the Clerk of Court assigns one. If you do not know your judicial circuit number, you can check the map here on the SC Courts’ website.

Now, let’s skip down to Section (d):

(d) Manner of Preparing Papers. Pleadings and other papers shall be on legal cap paper, eight and one-half by eleven inches in size. They shall be plainly written with adequate spacing between lines or typewritten with not less than one and one-half spacing between lines. Each page shall be numbered consecutively and pages shall be fastened at the top so as to read continuously. Papers in handwriting or typewriting must have a blank margin of an inch and one-half on the left. Plats, photographs, diagrams, documents, and other paper exhibits or copies thereof may be submitted in their actual size; but should be reduced if practicable to eight and one-half by eleven inches if such reduction does not impair legibility and clarity.

What’s of interest here is that even though it clearly states that PLEADINGS AND OTHER PAPERS SHALL BE ON LEGAL CAP PAPER (8 1/2 x 11), the Courts have been receiving pleadings written on paper towels, napkins and even envelopes. And according to Section (e), the Clerks can refuse to file pleadings or papers that are not prepared according to this rule.

Skip down to Section (e):

(e) Filing Refused. The clerk of the court shall not file any pleadings or other papers not prepared in accordance with this rule; except plats, photographs, diagrams, documents, and other paper exhibits as provided in paragraph 10(c).

Please read through the rules before filing documents and make sure you’re in compliance with the rules. If not, the result could be costly to litigants while slowing the efforts of judges to dispense justice.

And if you are a self-represented litigant and are not sure what to do, you may wish to consult an attorney to ensure that you are not giving up your legal rights.

-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

Congratulations Commissioner Simmons!

Earlier today, the South Carolina Court webpage updated its list of Chief Judges for Administrative Purposes of the Summary Court.  The South Carolina Access to Justice Commission is pleased to note that one of our Commissioners, The Honorable Rita A. Simmons, was again named to the position in Beaufort County.

Judge Simmons

Congratulations!

-RFW

BREAKING NEWS: SC Supreme Court lifts TRO

BREAKING NEWS: South Carolina’s Temporary Restraining Order has been lifted

Earlier this month I added a post that the South Carolina Supreme Court had issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) suspending foreclosures on government mortgages.

As of earlier today, the Court issued a new Order lifting the TRO.

-RFW

SC Access to Justice Readers’ Choice for the Holidays?

Why the Transcript of the South Carolina Supreme Court November 5th Public Hearing on Access to Justice of course!

the-court-is-in-session

Click here for the  transcript.

Many Thanks to Winkie Clark for uploading the transcript to the www.sccourts.org website and to Mary Ann Ridenour for forwarding it to SC Access to Justice!

-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