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.
The deadline to file your 2019 Federal and South Carolina State income tax return is July 15, 2020. If you have a balance due on your 2019 return, the deadline to pay the balance due without incurring interest and penalties is also July 15, 2020. If you are unable to pay by this date, you should still file the tax return. The IRS highly recommends e-filing your tax return as it will take a lot less time to process your returns and issue any refunds.
The IRS has started issuing economic stimulus payments (EIP) in mid-April. If you receive social security retirement, social security disability, supplemental security income (SSI), or veterans benefits through the Veterans Affairs (VA), the IRS will automatically issue your economic impact payment to the account where you receive your benefits. The economic impact payment will be sent to you even if you have a federal income tax debt that is not paid off.
If you did not file a tax return for tax years 2018 or 2019, you will not automatically receive the EIP. You must apply for it here. Additionally, if you have qualifying children under 17, you may be eligible to receive an additional $500.00 per dependent qualifying child. If you did not apply online at the link above by May 5, 2020, you will be able to receive this additional sum by including your qualifying dependent in your 2020 tax return to be filed next year.
If you filed a 2018 or 2019 federal income tax return and you provided direct deposit information that is still correct, you do not have to do anything. If you filed a 2018 or 2019 tax return and you either did not provide direct deposit information, had a balance due, or your direct deposit information has changed, the IRS will send your payment by U.S. Mail. You can check the status of your payment here. If you have moved since you filed your tax return, make sure to submit a change of address form with the U.S. Postal service so that the economic stimulus payment will be mailed to your new address. You should also change your address with the IRS.
If you believe that your EIP was in the wrong amount, you will be able to claim the additional amount by filing a 2020 tax return in 2021. If you are divorced or legally separated or have a support agreement in the family court and believe that the other parent claimed a child or children that they were not supposed to claim on their 2019 tax returns, you may need to speak with your family law attorney.
Additionally, if the IRS based your EIP on your federal income tax return and a person on the return passed away before you received the EIP, the deceased person’s portion must be returned to the IRS. For example, if you filed a joint return for tax year 2019 and your spouse died in February 2020, you must return the deceased person’s portion of the EIP. Instructions on how to send back the payment are on irs.gov.
Scammers have already been hard at work to try to take stimulus funds that taxpayers have or will receive. The IRS will never contact you or request personal information such as your Social Security number by e-mail, social media, or telephone. It will never ask for payments over the phone and will never require you to send a prepaid debit card. If you have any concern relating to a phone call, e-mail or social media post, you should visit the IRS website at irs.gov. Do not fall victim to people contacting you and saying that they can help you obtain the economic impact payment or get the payment faster than if you apply on your own! This is not true! Be safe and check for any updates relating to Covid-19 directly on irs.gov as the IRS frequently updates these rules and requirements.
Since 1999, May has been designated National Military Appreciation Month to encourage us to honor past and present military members and their families. This is the perfect time to highlight specific laws meant to protect servicemembers from legal troubles or disadvantages while they are in military service. The federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), the South Carolina Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (South Carolina SCRA), and the South Carolina Military Parent Equal Protection Act (MPEPA) are laws specifically intended to protect service members and their families.
Federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)
The SCRA provides benefits and protections to those in “military service” which includes: (1) full-time active duty members of the five military branches (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard); (2) Reservists on federal active duty; and (3) members of the National Guard on federal orders for more than 30 days.
Some of the benefits and protections under the SCRA are included below, each of which has certain conditions which may apply and could limit their application to individual circumstances:
Reduced interest rates
Postponement of foreclosures
Deferred income taxes
Protection against default judgments
Postponed civil court matters
Termination of residential lease agreements
Termination of automobile leases
Termination of phone/internet/cable services
Prevention of repossession of property
Protection against storage liens
Protections against adverse actions from creditors or insurers
South Carolina Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (South Carolina SCRA)
The South Carolina SCRA was designed to expand and supplement the federal SCRA to cover circumstances where the federal SCRA might not apply to SC National Guard service. It expands the definition of “military service” to include full time training, annual training, State Active Duty, and attendance at a service school in addition to military service under the federal SCRA. It also extends protections to dependents of servicemembers and expands some of the contracts that may be terminated when a servicemember receives military orders.
South Carolina Military Parent Equal Protection Act (MPEPA)
The MPEPA provides protections for parents who are in military service, but the definition of military service under the MPEPA is not as broad as the definition under the SCRA and only includes deployments that would not allow a family member to accompany the military parent.
One of the protections provided under the MPEPA is that Courts cannot enter a final order modifying the terms of custody or visitation in an existing order until 90 days after the enlisted parent is released from military service. Also, a military parent’s absence or relocation due to military service cannot be the sole reason for a court to permanently modify an existing custody or visitation order.
If a servicemember is away on “military service”, the Family Court can issue a temporary order making reasonable accommodations for that parent’s absence. The order will terminate when the military parent returns. If there is no existing order, the Court must hold an expedited temporary hearing to establish temporary custody, visitation, and support.
Also, when military parents are called to service, either parent can request that the Family Court issue an order temporarily modifying child support based upon any increase or decrease in pay during the deployment. After the deployment ends, child support automatically reverts to the original amount before deployment.
This is only a broad overview of some of the benefits and protections provided to servicemembers by these laws. The details of each of these laws can be complicated and it is important to get professional advice on how they might apply to individual circumstances. 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.