South Carolina Legal Services Victory for Criminal Record Reform
Press Release - March 14, 2016
South Carolina Legal Services Victory for Criminal Record Reform
Efforts reform SLED criminal record policy on reporting civil child support nonpayment
Columbia, SC: After filing a Petition for Original Jurisdiction in the South Carolina Supreme Court and subsequent meetings with South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) counsel, SLED has changed its practice of collecting and reporting civil child support nonpayment on its SLED CATCH criminal record histories.
In South Carolina, it had been customary for local law enforcement agencies to report arrests for civil child support nonpayment to SLED and for SLED to disseminate information about the arrests on is SLED CATCH criminal record histories. However, these arrests are not criminal in nature. As the United States Supreme Court recognized in Turner v. Rogers, in South Carolina, there has not always been much effort made to determine whether an obligor has the ability to pay before ordering incarceration. In that case, it was found that the manner in which South Carolina conducted hearings on child support nonpayment violated obligors’ due process rights. 131 S. Ct. 2507, 2511. Surveys in 2005 and 2009 finding that 13 to 16 percent of the total detainee population in county jails in South Carolina consisted of family court contemnors. See Amicus Brief of Elizabeth G. Patterson., p. 6, Turner v. Rogers, 131 S. Ct. 2507, 2518 (U.S. 2011). While the obligors found to be in contempt are incarcerated, the case is purely civil in nature and meant to compel the obligor to pay off his or her arrearage, not as punishment. It is common for low income South Carolinians to spend months in jail because of the inability to pay the amount ordered.
Citing the thousands of arrests per year due to child support contempt, South Carolina Legal Services attorneys brought a Petition for Original Jurisdiction to the Supreme Court under the public interest provision of Rule 245, SCACR. “This is a dire issue that we needed to address,” said Jack Cohoon, head of the South Carolina Legal Services Employment Unit, “There are thousands of South Carolinians with civil child support nonpayment on their criminal records that shouldn’t be there. Many people are unaware of what employers may be seeing when they run background checks. The inclusion of this noncriminal information on criminal records is unlawful and bad public policy. The practice saddles obligor parents with ‘criminal’ records that prospective employers see and makes it harder for them to support their children.”
In response to SCLS’ Supreme Court filing, SLED authorized the removal and modification of civil contempt CDR codes, the electronic codes used by arresting agencies to designate the reason for arresting an individual. This change ensures that any future attempt by an arresting agency to upload a civil nonsupport record will be flagged and removed from the SLED criminal record database. Additionally, the litigation prompted SLED to reform its training policy regarding the submission of criminal history information by arresting agencies. SLED is generating and distributing new policy information to all of its South Carolina criminal justice partners.
On a more personal note, the litigation prompted SLED to remove the contempt charges from the records of South Carolina Legal Services’ named plaintiffs in the suit. Plaintiff Daniel Boozer is a 64-year-old bus driver and jazz drummer. He had nothing else on his record besides this erroneous child support matter. Boozer said, “I’m just grateful that steps could be taken to get things cleared up because this is something that has interfered with employment opportunities in my life.”
“We are pleased for clients in this case but disappointed SLED has not fixed SLED’s whole problem,” said Kirby Mitchell, senior litigation attorney at SCLS. “SLED can and should correct this problem for every South Carolinian negatively impacted, not just the handful of folks who became aware of it and have asked SLED to correct SLED’s errors and provide accurate information.”
While the Petition for Original Jurisdiction was denied by the Supreme Court, the resulting policy changes enacted by SLED are a huge victory for criminal records reform in South Carolina. However, the attorneys of South Carolina Legal Services doesn’t plan on being complacent after the win. “Around thirty percent of adults in South Carolina have a criminal record so we have a lot of work ahead,” said SCLS attorney and AmeriCorps-Equal Justice Works Fellow Lonnie Doles, “helping ex-offenders get employment is an important goal for us. Not only does it help them get their life and dignity back, it also helps the community by providing good workers and promoting self-sufficiency.”
People with errors on their criminal records can request correction by calling SLED’s Criminal Records office at (803) 896-1443. If that is not successful, they can apply for legal help by calling SCLS’ intake office at 1-888-346-5592.
March 5-12, 2016
This week South Carolina Legal Services celebrates the work of our AmeriCorps-Equal Justice Fellows and JDs by sharing a little information about them. These attorneys and law students are devoting significant time and effort to serve low-income South Carolinians and make our state a better place.
It's not often you get a thank you note from the attorney on the other side. Our attorney, Kerry Jardine, did just that. Well done Kerry!
Susan Ingles Receives the 2015 William E. S. Robinson Public Service Award
The South Carolina Bankruptcy Law Association (SCBLA) presents the William E.S. Robinson Public Service Award each year at the Annual Seminar. This honor is awarded to a SCBLA member selected by the Board of Directors, as having rendered distinguished public service to the legal profession and the community as was exemplified by Billy Robinson during his life.
Only members of the South Carolina Bankruptcy Law Association are eligible. To make the award nonpolitical, active judges and elected public officeholders are excluded, but past service in such positions may be considered. Some of the criteria that go into deciding the nominees and the winner of the award include:
- The nominees has shown individuality through creative problem-solving while setting an inspirational example of industriousness, unselfish dedication and determination causing him/her to be admired and respected by his/her peers.
- The individual has demonstrated in dedication to the development and delivery of legal services to the poor through pro bono services.
- The individual has participated in an activity that resulted in recognizing an unsatisfied need or in extending services to under served segments of the population.
- The individual has made an extraordinary contribution toward improving lives of low income persons either by direct intervention or indirect organization and/or empowerment.
- The individual exhibits a quest for fairness and truth and a history of commitment.
- The individual exhibits high ethical standards and shows courtesy and respect to the court, fellow members of the bar and the client community.
- The individual has provided service to his/her profession by participating in efforts that will benefit the bankruptcy legal community as a whole.
The nomination and statements by the Honorable Judge John Waites in presenting the award include: In Susie's everyday service as an attorney for SC Legal Service she demonstrates dedication to the delivery of legal services to the poor. She helped set up the legal clinics (foreclosure Friday clinics) we provide at the bankruptcy court and has established systems to expedite the referral of qualifying pro se filers to SC Legal Services for representation. Recent projects include setting up an online, group setting financial management session for low income and computer deficient debtors in the upstate to meet the case closing requirement in cases. For SC Legal services she has received over $90,000 in grants from the American Bankruptcy College and used the funds to produce helpful videos on bankruptcy and housing, student loans and domestic issues- among other things. As a member of the recent student loan debt project, she initiated the relationship with American Student Assistance which will allow free student loan management advice for any SC resident and she helped establish the new probono.net web site to serve as the home for the updated CARE program in SC. She was nominated by her peers at SC Legal Services and others for the award.
Susan Ingles with the Honorable John Waites, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge, 4th Circuit.
Susan Ingles (right) with Pamela Simmons-Beasley, President of South Carolina Bankruptcy Law Association.
Susan Ingles with George Cauthen, former South Carolina Bankruptcy Law Association Board Member.
Susan Ingles with the SCLS family (left to right), Juanita Middleton, Kathy Rogozenski, Alisa Boyd, Phil Creel, and Mary Platts
2015 Affordable Housing Advocates' Forum
On January 13, 2015, SCLS’ Housing Unit had the opportunity to provide training to the South Carolina Association of Housing Authority Directors. Nearly 80 staff from 20 hous-ing authorities statewide were in attendance. SCLS attorneys Kerry Jardine, Matt Billings-ley, and Adam Protheroe provided over 4 hours of training to housing authority directors and staff on state landlord-tenant law, the requirements of federal housing programs, common problems that SCLS sees in its housing practice and possible ways to address them.
SCLS emphasized the fact that we and housing authorities exist to serve the same people and offered suggestions for how SCLS and housing authorities can work together to be more effective in accomplishing our shared mission. SCLS also emphasized that while we and housing authorities may continue to oppose each other in litigation, that process ulti-mately benefits those we serve by making us better at our jobs. The training and infor-mation provided were well-received and some opportunities for partnership and in-creased collaboration have already materialized. We are hopeful that we will have more opportunities to work productively with housing authorities in the future.
South Carolina Legal Services Selected To Host
Equal Justice Works Americorps Fellow.
South Carolina Legal Services (“SCLS”) is excited to announce that it has been selected by Equal Justice Works to host its first-ever AmeriCorps Equal Justice Works Fellow. Lonnie R. Doles, a 2014 graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Law, will be serving as an Employment Opportunity Fellow to provide legal assistance to remove barriers to employment for unemployed or underemployed people who are actively seeking to join the labor market. This assistance will include expungement of minor criminal records, correcting errors in criminal records, restoring driver’s licenses and occupational licenses, and providing other legal assistance aimed at helping individuals get to work. The fellowship will last for one year with the possibility of renewal for second year.
Andrea E. Loney, SCLS’s Executive Director, said, “we are excited about the opportunity this Fellowship provides to enable SCLS to help marginalized South Carolinians to reenter the workforce and regain their dignity and self-sufficiency.”
Mr. Doles stated, “this fellowship is an amazing opportunity for me to give back to the people of South Carolina after they have given me so much. I’m so grateful that this Equal Justice Works fellowship allows me to assist my fellow community members in breaking down barriers to employment and help them in their pursuit of the American Dream. There are so many hard-working and talented people in South Carolina that deserve to be able to work, I’m just honored that I can be a part of reaching that goal.”
Mr. Doles has been deeply involved in public interest law as a law student. He previously worked for SCLS as a law clerk. While at USC, he served as President of the Student Bar Association and in various other leadership roles. According to Pamela D. Robinson, Director of USC’s Pro Bono program, “the first time you meet Lonnie you get a hint of the passion he has for helping people and the more you get to know him and work with him you quickly find out that passion is genuine and heartfelt. Combined with his ability to communicate with all kinds of people and you realize that this is a young lawyer who can and will build a community.” Robinson said that during Mr. Doles’ time at as a law student, he could always be relied upon to help volunteer lawyers provide legal assistance to homeless persons at Columbia’s Transitions shelter. He also effectively recruited other students to join him in this endeavor. “There was not a time when I asked Lonnie for help on a pro bono project that he didn’t step up—whether it was research or as a volunteer law clerk on a case. After his first year of law school Lonnie was a natural choice for one of the Pro Bono program’s coveted SC Bar Foundation Public Interest Fellowships to work as a law clerk at South Carolina Legal Services and the match was a perfect fit,” Robinson said. Doles graduated from the School of Law in May of this year. His hometown is Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.
About Equal Justice Works:
The Equal Justice Works Fellowships Program was launched in 1992 to address the shortage of attorneys working on behalf of traditionally under-served populations and causes in the United States. The program provides financial and technical support to lawyers working on much-needed legal projects. Fellowships offer salary and generous loan repayment assistance; a national training and leadership development program; and other forms of support. The Equal Justice Fellowships Program is the nation’s largest postgraduate legal fellowship program. This is the first time that South Carolina Legal Services has been awarded a fellow. For more information about Equal Justice Works, visit: http://www.equaljusticeworks.org/
About South Carolina Legal Services:
SCLS is a statewide legal aid law firm that provides free, quality legal services in a wide variety of civil legal matters to protect the rights and represent the interests of low income South Carolinians. SCLS is a non-profit corporation funded by grants from the Legal Services Corporation, the South Carolina Bar Foundation, local United Ways, state court filing fees, and other federal, state, and local funding. For more information about SCLS, visit: www.sclegal.org
Susan Ingles on Legal Talk Legal Traps with David Thomas
SCLS staff attorney and Consumer Law Unit Head Susan Ingles appeared on Legal Talk Legal Traps with David Thomas. On the show Susan discussed SCLS, shared some insights on bankruptcy issues, talked about issues facing those with student loan debt, and more. You can listen to the interview here. To learn more about Legal Talk Legal Traps, or to listen to more shows, visit their website here.
SCCADVASA Attorney of the Year
South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (SCCADVASA) honored Matthew Billingsley with the Attorney of the Year award. The award was presented to Billingsley at SCCADVASA’s Annual Meeting on Thursday, May 22, 2014. Billingsley is a staff attorney at South Carolina Legal Services in Charleston. He was nominated for the award by Elmire Raven, the Executive Director of My Sister’s House.
Raven and Billingsley at the recognition ceremony.
Student Loan Debt
Financial Education NOW For What Comes NEXT
On February 19, 2014, South Carolina Legal Services with The William T. Howell Pre-Law Society at Clemson University, The American College of Bankruptcy, The American College of Bankruptcy Foundation and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of South Carolina CARE Program sponsored a presentation on the law of student loan financing, payment and collection. The event featured a Special Guest, the Honorable Helen Elizabeth “Beth” Burris, Judge of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of South Carolina, followed by a Q&A session with local bankruptcy and student loan practitioners.
If you were unable to attend but would like to learn more about the topic, please view the videos below, and visit us at www.lawhelp.org/sc for more resources.
South Carolina Legal Services Attorney, Susan Ingles, delivering her opening remarks.
The Honorable Judge Helen E. Burris of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of South Carolina delivering her speech.
Attorneys David Cantrell, Robert King, Brain Ellsworth and Susan Ingles answer questions from the audience.
The Honorable Judge Helen E. Burris talking to an attendee.
Presenters and guests at the dinner following the presentation.
Attendees and South Carolina Legal Services attorneys at the dinner following the presentation.