Bankruptcy COVID clients that were awaiting hearings and those that have filed since March 2020 are benefiting from the Operating Orders and other changes that occurred in the Bankruptcy Court as Judges addressed safety and the economic hardship of debtors caused by COVID.
Hearings. The dockets set for 341 Hearings (First Meetings of Creditors) and Confirmation Hearings were converted to telephonic hearings. Prior to COVID-19 SCLS clients traveled as far as 80 miles each way for hearings. The hearings set after March and continuing do not require internet or video, simply a working telephone. Clients and attorneys may dial in from wherever they are at a set time.
Plans. Chapter 13 Plans filed prior to March 13, 2020 can be extended from five to seven-year plans if related in some way to COVID. The Courts are liberally construing the cause of the hardships and approving amended plans.
Chapter 13 Trustees have not filed Motions to Dismiss for Non-Payment since March; although this will resume this week with settlement options.
Trustees have not attempted to claim an interest in extra monies distributed during the crisis. In the past no tax refund was safe from their grasp.
To find out if you qualify for free bankruptcy representation, contact our Intake Office at 888-346-5592 or apply online at www.sclegal.org.
It’s hard to believe that the summer is almost over. In August, most schools in South Carolina will start the process of enrolling students for the new school year. School enrollment can be difficult for many low-income parents and caretakers of children. School fees seem to increase every year and paying these fees can be a struggle to a family with a tight budget. If your family receives SNAP benefits, or your children qualify for free or reduced lunch, you can have your school enrollment fees waived. Some schools do this automatically every year, while other school parents need to ask about the waiver of these fees. Many schools will try to get you to agree to a payment plan, if you can afford that you can agree to it. But if you can not afford a payment plan speak up and tell the school that you can not afford it. Those fees can be waived.
The other big concern facing caretakers and parents this time of year is how to actually get students enrolled. Schools can ask for proof of residency, meaning proof of where you live. This can get complicated if you are staying with friends or maybe living in a motel, or shelter. Schools can not refuse to enroll your child if you live in a motel, shelter, or stay with friends or family. There is a federal law called McKinney Vento that allows children without fixed, adequate nighttime housing to be enrolled in school. Each school district has a McKinney Vento coordinator and you can ask to speak to this person to get your student enrolled.
Schools may also require proof of a child’s age to enroll them in school. The easiest way to do this is a birth certificate, but there are lots of legitimate reasons why a family may not be able to provide a child’s birth certificate. The school can not require you to provide a birth certificate if you have some other proof of the child’s age. Official documents that have a child’s age listed are medical records, or immunization records.
Sometimes children live with people other than their parents. If someone other than a custodial parent tries to enroll a child, they maybe told that the child cannot be enrolled without a custody order. Custody is a complicated and expensive legal process and filing for it may not be the right thing for your situation. You do not need a custody order if a child lives with you because of one of the following reasons:
Parent or legal guardian is seriously ill or in jail.
Parent or legal guardian has completely given up control of the child and does not support them, or visit with them.
Parents have abused or neglected the child.
Parents are mentally or physically ill and cannot care for or supervise the child.
Parent is homeless, or the child is homeless.
Parent has been deployed to military or active duty for more than 60 days and more than 70 miles away from their residence.
Instead of a custody order, you can enroll the child by using a School Enrollment Affidavit. The school can provide you one of these upon your request. Once the school district is presented with the affidavit, they must immediately enroll the child. If you are requesting a school enrollment affidavit, it is best to request them from the district office rather than the individual school. . If you need one of our attorneys to assist you with any of this process you may call our toll free number at 888-346-5592 or go on line at www.sclegal.org to apply for our services.
In May, our client was served with a 30-day notice to terminate her lease. Upon review of the client’s documents, she had a lease through September, and she did not wish to terminate her lease early. She had not received any notices of any lease violations, but was aware that a particular neighbor was making frivolous complaints about her to the police and to the property manager. I called the property manager and informed him they had no right to terminate the lease early, and my client wanted to stay through the term of her lease. He did not appreciate being told he could not do what he wanted to do, and eventually hung up.
Because the phone call did not go well, I decided to send the property manager a fax to summarize our phone conversation. In that letter, I informed him that if he sought to evict my client, I would ask for attorney’s fees and attach the letter as “Exhibit A.”
Fast forward a month. I received a call from our client – she had been served with an eviction action. We requested a hearing and prepared our defenses.
At the hearing, on cross-examination, I walked the property manager through the law and he ultimately agreed that the eviction was unlawful. He also acknowledged receiving my letter about attorney’s fees. The judge ruled in our favor, dismissing the eviction, and awarded us attorney’s fees in light of the property manager being put on notice that what he was doing was unlawful.
South Carolina Legal Services is a statewide law firm that provides civil legal services to protect the rights and represent the interests of low-income South Carolinians. To apply for free legal help, call 1-888-346-5593 or apply online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.
The Greenwood Office of South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) spotlights Mary C. Williams as its PAI Attorney of the Year. PAI stands for Private Attorney Involvement. This program pays private attorneys a reduced fee to represent our clients. It allows SCLS to serve more clients and provides clients with a wider range of talented attorneys.
Ms. Williams aims to be a servant leader, both in her professional and personal life. When asked about her work, she discussed her desire to solve the legal challenges, but also to help the client overcome other barriers they have, which may affect the legal issue. For example, she has recently encouraged a client to seek mental health services and identified which services are available. For another client, she straightened out problems with a client’s Veterans Affairs benefits. The Managing Attorney for the Greenwood Office says “Mary truly cares about our individual clients, and it shows in the work she does. She goes above and beyond to accept difficult cases, to understand and empathize with the clients, and to introduce them to services that assist with their other needs.”
Ms. Williams’s interest in people and meeting their needs is apparent throughout her career. She graduated from Erskine College and University of South Carolina School of Law. Early in her legal career, she worked at Legal Services Agency of Western Carolina, for South Carolina Department of Social Services (SCDSS) Office for General Counsel, and for Children’s Law Center. She became the Director of Human Services for SCDSS and then the Director of Program Improvement at SCDSS. She was appointed in December 2011 as Director of Agency Performance for the District of Columbia Child Welfare Agency.
She has also created a curriculum to teach social workers and currently has a consulting company for child welfare and elderly services. She has served on boards, such as American Public Human Services Association National Child Welfare Advisory Committee on Positioning Public Child Welfare sponsored by the Casey Foundation, the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute sponsored by the Children’s Bureau, the National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators (NAPCWA) of the American Public Human Services, and the Executive Committee of NAPCWA. Ms. Williams is the recipient of a South Carolina General Assembly Resolution honoring her years of public service in child welfare. The resolution was passed by all members of the House of Representative and signed by the Speaker of the House.
She has written articles for the South Carolina Bar on child maltreatment, domestic violence, education, and housing law. She is the author of “Public Policy Regarding Juveniles: A Review of the Impact for African Americans”, published by the Columbia Urban League in the State of Black South Carolina. She has written several publications on domestic violence to include The Link between Domestic Violence and honoring her years of public service in child welfare.
Her life has been inspired by this quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” We are grateful that Ms. Williams shares her experience, her talents and her compassion with our staff and clients.
If you would like to join our PAI program, please contact our Executive Director, Andrea E. Loney, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On July 26th, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA was an expansive civil rights law that, among other things, prohibited discrimination of those with disabilities.
In the education setting, we look at the ADA in conjunction with a previous law that dealt with students with disabilities: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Action of 1973. Together, the laws say that students with disabilities cannot be discriminated against because of their disability.
So, what does unlawful discrimination look like in schools?
Discrimination ranges from the obvious to the less obvious. Obvious: A basketball coach cannot exclude a student from basketball tryouts simply because the student has autism. Less Obvious: A school cannot exclude a student with autism from a field trip unless the student’s parent comes along. Even Less Obvious: A school cannot suspend a student with autism whenever their autism causes behavioral issues.
To better understand these examples, try to think about the law in terms of access. A student with a disability has to be able to access the same stuff their other classmates have access to.
Access to physical things is straight-forward. A student confined to a wheelchair needs the same physical access to the same facilities that everyone has – meaning ramps, elevators, railings, etc. A student who is blind needs materials provided in braille. A student with autism needs the same access to basketball tryouts and fieldtrips as their other classmates.
Access to non-physical things, however, is a bit more complicated. Take our student with autism who has behavioral issues as an example. Let’s say they are a great student, and 95% of the time they are well behaved. However, 5% of the time, their autism makes them disruptive. When they are disruptive, the school calls the parent and tells them to come pick up their student from school. If the parent is able, the student goes home and misses the rest of the school day. If the parent is unable, the school suspends the student and/or places them in an In-School Suspension (ISS) room for the rest of the school day.
In this example, the child’s disability makes them unable to access the normal school day and all of the instruction, worksheets, quizzes, tests, etc. that are included. More importantly, thanks to the school’s reaction in this example, the child is unable to access the rest of the school day, and whatever school days for which they are also suspended.
So, what can be done?
You can set up a 504 Plan at your school. (It’s named after the relevant section of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.) In a 504 Plan, you can get the school to address your child’s disability so they can have equal access. In the example of our student with autism, the school should develop a behavioral plan to manage and deescalate the student so that they can return to class as quickly and safely as possible. That way, they aren’t missing much instructional time, or missing an important quiz or test.
In additional to behavioral plans, here is a short, non-exhaustive list of other examples of accommodations your student can receive from a 504 Plan:
Preferential seating (for students with attention, behavioral, hearing or sight issues)
Large print assignments (for students with sight issues)
Special desks (for students with specific physical conditions)
Tablet computer and headphones (for students with attention, behavioral, hearing, sensory, or sight issues)
“Chunking” of assignments, meaning putting 4 math problems on 1 page, instead of 25 problems on 1 page (for students with attention issues)
Frequent breaks (for students with attention and/or behavioral issues)
Allowing a student to change classes a couple of minutes before everyone else to help with sensory issues, or to minimize distractions
Visual schedule to help a student with Autism make transitions easier
If your student has a diagnosed disability which impairs their access in some way at school, write the school a letter asking for a 504 plan meeting. If the school is resistant, you should contact an attorney. Or, you can file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights.
The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted normal court operations and services being offered to domestic violence survivors, but assistance is still available. The South Carolina Supreme Court has issued a number of court orders addressing how hearings should be handled. You can review them at https://www.sccourts.org/coronavirus/covid-19/. Emergency hearings are still being held in person and include such hearings as orders of protection, custody and visitation cases involving emergency issues, such as imminent threats of bodily harm or significant property loss. Non-emergency hearings are primarily being held via WebEx, which is an online platform. Parties may participate in the WebEx hearings using audio, if they do not have internet access. It is important to prepare for the WebEx hearings the same as if the hearing were held in person. Parties need to be appropriately dressed and in a quiet, distraction free space during all WebEx court proceedings.
The courts in South Carolina are divided by county into different circuits. Each circuit may have individual orders that apply for cases heard within it, so it is important to check to find out if there are any particular orders that apply in your area. Local Family Court orders can be found at https://www.sccourts.org/coronavirus/localorders/. The Administrative Judge for each circuit may also issue rules that are specific for how cases and motions are filed and heard and those particular rules can be obtained from the Clerk of Court within the individual county, or from the Administrative Judge’s assistant.
Order of protection hearings are still being scheduled and heard. South Carolina Legal Services has an online program to assist with completing applications for orders of protection at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/resource/self-help-order-of-protection-forms. Local offices are also providing legal representation in order of protection cases. It is recommended to have legal representation at these hearings, if possible. The orders of protection can provide relief for up to one year including restraining orders, custody, child custody, child support, possession of the marital home, protection of pets and other requested relief.
Family Court in South Carolina is operating, although it is not business as usual. If you would like to apply for our free legal services, you may do so by calling 1-888-346-5592 or online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.
Did you know that there are steps you can take to maintain your driver’s license before a suspension is authorized through the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (SCDMV)? Unfortunately, many people start the prevention process too late. Tackling the issue early on could be the difference in your paying hundreds of dollars, attending court mandated programs, or obtaining high risk insurance.
Sometimes the interruption of your license can be stopped by simply updating your address, taking a defensive driving course, or showing up to court once you receive a ticket. Below are some tips to consider that may keep you on the road and prevent you from becoming entangled with the SCDMV.
Update your Address with the SCDMV
People tend to move around often, however, it is important to keep your address current with the SCDMV. You are required to update the information within ten (10) days of moving. This is important because it is where all correspondence will go to you. If your address is not valid, you run the risk of missing strict deadlines to appeal your suspension and will likely have to maintain the decision until you have satisfied all terms and conditions of the suspension. You may update your address online, by mail, or by visiting your local SCDMV branch.
The Points System
Are the points against your driver’s license steadily increasing and a suspension is looming? If so, you may want to take a defensive driving course. In South Carolina, various traffic violations are assigned points. If you obtain twelve (12) points your license will be suspended. By taking a defensive driving course you can reduce the number of points against your license. The course must be completed before your suspension begins as a point reduction will not cancel a suspension once it has been granted. You may find a list of certified driving schools at www.scdmvonline.com.
Attend your Court Date
While this may sound like the obvious thing to do, it is important that after you receive your ticket/citation, you show up to your court date and learn what your options are. Do not automatically inform the Judge that you are guilty, or the court will have to accept your guilty plea. Instead, arrive early to speak with the ticketing officer. You may have the opportunity to ask him/her to rewrite your ticket for a lesser offense.
You can also ask the Judge for a payment plan if you cannot afford to pay the entire fine. When discussing payment plans, it is important that you are realistic in indicating how much you can pay and when you will be able to submit a payment. Failure to pay as scheduled can result in a larger fine, a bench warrant, or even interception of your tax returns.
Bring evidence to prove that your issue has been resolved. If you did not have your proof of insurance at the time that you were stopped, or your lights were not working properly, etc. you should bring verification that these issues have been resolved to court with you and possibly have the case dismissed.
Lastly, if you are unable to make your scheduled date for a valid reason, call the court right away. It is important to notify the court before you are absent. If you do not appear, your license could be suspended, and you will have additional fines and obligations.
If you are past the point of fixing the issue with the court and need assistance with determining what other options you may have to lessen the penalty or get back on the road quicker, South Carolina Legal Services may be able to help. You may see if you qualify for our services by calling 1-888-346-5592 or applying online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.
We are pleased to introduce our two Access to Justice (ATJ) Tech Fellows that are working with our Technology Innovation Team this summer. Angelica Padgett is a rising third year law student (3L) at the University of South Carolina School of Law and Stephanie Pacheco is a rising 3L at the Charleston School of Law. Students like Angelica and Stephanie are spending their summers working at legal aid programs across the nation to help narrow the justice gap.
Now in its fourth year, the Access To Justice Technology Fellowship Program is supported by the Law School Admission Council and the Legal Services Corporation. It was created to equip law students to become leaders in the legal profession by providing them with tools and skills to leverage technology, data, and user-centered design.
Angelica and Stephanie are 2 of 23 students leveraging technology and other interdisciplinary approaches to advance legal access in low income and marginalized communities around the United States.
With funding from a Technology Innovation Grant (TIG) from Legal Services Corporation, South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) is partnering with the S.C. Bar Pro Bono Program and the Greenville County Bar Pro Bono Foundation to add 6 more online classrooms to our repository of five. We produced classrooms on Domestic Violence, Getting Your Landlord to Make Repairs, Guardianship, Debt Collection in Summary Court and Unemployment Benefit Appeals with the help of a previous TIG grant. The 6 new classes will cover Foreclosure, Eviction, Special Education, Debt Collection in Circuit Court, Criminal Record Expungements and Heirs Property Preservation.
The project also includes production of a live action trial video depicting a divorce hearing with unrepresented parties. Our fellows are working on concept development, scripting, editing and production to create this unique tool to guide parties through the final hearing process and shorten the time it takes for the Court to help them navigate. This new video asset will be a prototype for more to come.
The 10-week summer fellowship program provides more than summer employment. It began with a two-day virtual bootcamp training designed to educate the fellows in the changing landscape of legal service delivery. In addition to working on our projects, the fellows are participating in a series of writing challenges designed to allow them to produce writing samples and develop their voice in the legal arena. Each fellow will showcase their work on a personal blog courtesy of LexBlog. The program also produces a Justice Innovators Speakers Series and provides the fellows access to its online Training Resource Center. Specific to the current health crisis, a new virtual mentorship program with volunteer leaders from the industry was introduced to foster a sense of community and provide guidance to the fellows.
Our partners and clients will benefit from the exciting new and innovative resources these thoughtful law students are creating with our lawyers and partners.
“Working at South Carolina Legal Services this summer is an opportunity that I am eternally grateful for. Consulting with unitheads on updating the Lawhelp website and working with Susan on creating a Live-Action Trial video has taught me more about myself and allowed me to use skills that are not taught in law school. This has definitely been a great experience.”
“This summer I am spending time working on assisting Unite Heads in crafting and creating new online classrooms for learnthelaw.org. Classrooms under development for this summer cover a wide variety of legal concepts, including heirs property preservation, individual education plans (IEPs), evictions, debt collection in the court of common pleas, expungement procedure, and foreclosures. I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to work with SCLS this summer to help get this information in a place that people who need it can access it.”
The South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) Orangeburg Office has found an effective and innovative way to continue to conduct outreach throughout most of its service area. Staff are collaborating with an organization called Growing COB (Calhoun, Orangeburg, Bamberg), whose mission is to improve health by ensuring access to sustainable gardens, fresh produce and nutritional and gardening education in the three named counties and surrounding areas. Since December of 2017, Growing COB has provided fresh produce to over 7,300 persons and educated 400 people in nutrition and gardening.
Growing COB and SCLS Orangeburg office combined their efforts and are conducting “curbside produce distribution” and providing legal educational and materials simultaneously. SCLS advocates have the opportunity to talk with those seeking fresh produce about their legal needs. All participants adhere to social distancing, use personal protective equipment and follow sanitary guidelines during the giveaways. Recent curbside distribution events were scheduled at Orangeburg Regional Medical Center for first responders, custodians, nurses and others employed at the hospital, as well as New Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Bowman. Upcoming events include a curbside produce distribution at the Calhoun County Library, as well as a second event at Orangeburg Regional Medical Center.
If you are a homeowner who has lost income directly or indirectly related to the coronavirus pandemic, you might be eligible for a forbearance. A forbearance is a program where the mortgage company delays, or forbears collecting monthly mortgage payments. Under federal law, if you have an FHA, VA, USDA, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac mortgage, you are covered. You can contact your mortgage servicer to request a mortgage payment forbearance. If you do not have one of these mortgages, you can ask your servicer if it has a coronavirus program to help homeowners who cannot pay the mortgage due to the pandemic.
If you are a renter who has lost income directly or indirectly related to the coronavirus pandemic, you might have protections under federal law. If you receive a federal subsidy to help you pay rent, if you live in a tax credit or rural development property, or if your landlord’s mortgage is backed by the federal government, you may have protection against being evicted for not paying rent. However, you should pay rent if you can. Rent is not being forgiven due to the pandemic.
If you cannot pay your rent, call your local United Way (call 211) or your local Human Affairs Commission to see if there is housing or utility assistance in your area. Additionally, here is a list of agencies that may be able to help with your rent payment. Finally, if you are behind on your rent payment, the COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program offers emergency rental assistance to South Carolinians facing financial hardships as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
Determining whether the property you are renting is covered by federal law may be difficult. This is especially true for figuring out if your landlord’s mortgage is backed by the federal government. If you are uncertain, South Carolina Legal Services may be able to help. We provide free legal help to low-income individuals. To see if you qualify for our services, call 1-888-346-5592 or apply online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.
We've had a great time this week at the @TogetherSC Conference, connecting with other organizations serving those in need throughout South Carolina. We're excited to continue working with these amazing groups to serve South Carolinians and promote equal access to justice!