Achieve the Dream: Removing Obstacles to Success Through the Expungement Process

I have made mistakes in the past. A lot. Despite my mistakes, I have been able to find a path to success. Despite my mistakes, I was able to get help along the way. However, there are many in our society who are denied help because of their past mistakes. Some are denied access to employment because of a lapse in judgment from years ago. Some are denied access to the most basic means of overcoming the hardships in life because of a wrong that they did as a minor.

The expungement process can remove certain criminal records from a person’s background. It is an effective way to erase the past mistakes. Certain crimes that are not eligible for expungement, may be eligible for a pardon. The pardon does not erase the criminal record, rather, it acknowledges that a person has been forgiven for those blunders.

Without the criminal record as an impediment, housing, employment, and other necessities are more readily accessible. Without the past criminal records getting in the way, all are free to work for and achieve their dream… just like I did.

On September 17th, SCLS hosted our annual Constitution Day Legal Forum. This year, the focus was on removing barriers to employment. Our legal team discussed options available to those wishing to get their life back on track. You can watch the video here.

If you would like to attend an expungement clinic, contact your local SCLS office for information about one coming up in your area.

SCLS regularly partners with other organizations to conduct expungement clinics. For example, last month, the Greenwood office of SCLS partnered with Meg’s House to present an expungement clinic. Meg’s House is a domestic violence shelter whose mission is to provide housing and supportive services that reduce the impact of domestic violence and chronic homelessness in the communities we serve. We would be happy to help your organization conduct a similar clinic. If your organization would like to partner with us to hold an expungement clinic, contact Tiffney Love at

Tips for Preparing for a Temporary Hearing in Family Court

Family Court cases can take a long time and may involve several court hearings. Temporary hearings are typically held early in the case.  They may be used when a client needs the Judge to make decisions on issues that need to be addressed quickly and on a temporary basis. What the Judge orders at the temporary hearing lasts until the next hearing.  At a temporary hearing, a Judge may order a temporary parenting plan, temporary child support, or temporary alimony. If the parties are married, the Judge may also decide who gets to use the marital home or vehicle. The Judge may also order restrictions about behavior of the parties. For example, the Judge may order that the parties cannot sell property that was purchased during the marriage or that they cannot talk badly about each other in front of the children. 

If an attorney knows that the case is likely to be contested, he or she may request a temporary hearing to ask for some deadlines to be established in the case.  In Family Court, if the parties do not agree about some issues, they must attend mediation. Mediation is a process where a third party, typically a trained and certified mediator, helps the parties try to reach an agreement. At the temporary hearing, the Judge may determine which mediator the parties should use and how the parties should pay for mediation. Typically, the Judge makes both parties divide the cost of mediation. You and your attorney will discuss what mediation option is best for your situation. You can then ask the Judge for that option. Ultimately, the Judge will make the decision about the choice of the mediator, the payment, and the deadline for mediation.

If the parties disagree about what is best for the children, the Judge will appoint a Guardian Ad Litem. This person will do an investigation of custody issues and will write a report for the court about what they found. The Guardian Ad Litem may visit the homes of both parties and speak to the children’s teachers or other family members. He or she may also look at the children’s medical records and search for other information about the children. It is important to cooperate with the Guardian Ad Litem. However, what you say to the Guardian Ad Litem is NOT protected by attorney-client privilege. At the temporary hearing, the Judge is likely to also decide how the Guardian’s fees will be handled. Typically, both parties are ordered to contribute to the fees. The Judge may also order the parties or other key adults in the case to take drug tests. 

Tell your attorney the truth about your situation, even facts that you think may hurt your case. If your attorney does not know these things, he or she cannot represent you effectively. Some facts that could hurt you include dating someone else while you are still married, drug use, and recent criminal history. What you post on social media can be used against you in Court. In the next segment, we will discuss the forms used at temporary hearings and how you can help your attorney represent you.

In Farmworkers’ Shoes

This summer has been excruciatingly hot. For me that usually means burning myself on the hot leather seats of my car or complaining about the sunburn on my face. For farmworkers, that means another ten to twelve-hour day in 98-degree weather. Has anyone warned them of sun poisoning? The link between overexposure to sun and cancer? Is sunscreen provided? I ask myself these questions as I run to my air-conditioned car to escape the heat. The car’s thermometer reads 100 degrees, my phone buzzes with a heat index warning of 117. I blast the AC, but for the brief two minutes it takes to cool down, I’m drenched in sweat. My face is flushed. In just two minutes I am completely overwhelmed by the heat. My next thought races to the workers who are in the fields, experiencing the same heat but with no opportunity for relief.

These same workers return to their housing in the late evenings, the humidity still clinging to their damp skin. Despite the arduous labor they have just endured, they say, “buenas tardes, pasen por favor.” They invite us into their kitchens, where workers are eating, cracking jokes, or simply enjoying a minute off of their feet. Despite the mundane legal information we are sharing, they give us a listening ear and ask questions. We get around to talking about their contract guarantees, the work conditions, and if time is on our side, we can hear about their families and the difficulties of being apart from them during their 10-month contracts. In their greeting smiles, friendly invitations and curious eyes, I get to experience the warmth and kindness of the workers. Even in the face of injustices and unfulfilled promises, they’re just happy to be here and happy to have us there too. I can’t put a number on how many times I have heard “gracias por estar aquí, por su ayuda.” They’re glad to know that someone is invested in their well-being.

2019 Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) intern

South Carolina Legal Services, Migrant Unit

The Public Benefits Unit

The South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) Public Benefits Unit met in the Columbia office in April 2019 to learn about SNAP Benefits for their first unit meeting of the 2019 calendar year. Attorney Bridget Owens with SC Appleseed provided an overview of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP-formerly known as Food Stamps) in South Carolina and how it can help SCLS clients.

Representing clients in SNAP denial and cessation cases is a critical part of bridging the hunger gap in South Carolina. One in seven people (679,990) and one in five children (202,110) struggled with hunger in South Carolina in 2017. [1] Access to healthy food is an even larger problem. In 2014, a report by the US Department of Agriculture revealed that more than 1 million low-income South Carolinians live in food deserts. Food deserts are defined as areas that are more than one mile from a grocery store in urban areas and more than ten miles from a grocery store in rural areas, and where there is limited access to other outlets including food hubs, mobile markets, farmers markets and corner stores.[2]

SNAP came to the forefront earlier this year with the early release of SNAP benefits due to the government shut down. SCLS and other community partners worked to inform our clients and other SNAP recipients that the early payments received for February were not bonus payments, and no additional SNAP benefits would be received until March 2019. We developed and posted flyers in all SCLS offices and educated our staff so they could keep our clients informed.

In addition to SNAP cases, the Public Benefits Unit provides representation to clients in Medicaid and Medicare cases, certain Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability (SSDI) cases that are not usually served by the private bar, veteran benefits and other income maintenance cases.

If you have a public benefits issue, contact us to see if you are eligible for representation. You can apply online at or call our statewide Intake Office at 1-888-346-5592.



PUBLIC BENEFITS: Our Clients’ Lifeline

We, as legal services advocates, are constantly helping our clients with traditional legal issues like divorces, bankruptcies, evictions and landlord issues, consumer issues, etc. However, we must pay close attention to the importance of public benefits in maintaining our clients’ financial and emotional stability. Our clients are, by definition, low income. This means they may qualify for a wide array of benefits to which they are entitled, and, the loss of which can be devastating. Legal Services Corporation has always recognized the importance of public benefits and has mandated that South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) treat it as a “priority” issue. Nevertheless, those of us on the front lines are responsible for evaluating every client’s situation to ensure that each client receives all that he or she is entitled to, even if the initial legal problem has nothing to do with public benefits.

A common example of this is the effect that alimony may have on a client’s eligibility for housing, Medicaid, food stamps (SNAP) or SSI disability. It does a client little good to receive $400 a month in alimony if it means a loss of Medicaid or food stamps and an increase in their public housing rental costs. Any kind of monetary settlement, whether it be from a divorce or a consumer case, should be evaluated to determine how it may affect a client’s eligibility for public benefits.

Our intake service does a review for Medicaid and food stamps eligibility. It is then the advocates’ responsibility to follow up on this with the clients. We also consider other public benefits for which the client or any minor children may be eligible. For example, do any of the children have special needs? Are they eligible for special education services? What about healthcare benefits? Does the client have any health issues? What about health issues that prevent the client from working? Is the client eligible for Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income or vocational rehabilitation services?  

At SCLS, we have an advocate in every office who specializes in public benefits cases. We also have a state-wide Public Benefits Unit whose members are experienced public benefits advocates. Because we know that public benefits may be the lifeline for some of our clients, we know the importance of fighting for these benefits on their behalf.

Born ‘Unnamed,’ SC man hits legal snag to get REAL ID

Excerpts taken from an article originally published in The State on August 15, 2019.

Gerald Farrow Clinkscales never thought getting his new driver’s license would be stressful.

But then he started the process of getting a new REAL ID.

Clinkscales, who turns 66 in November, had no idea he was about to embark on a months-long process to get his ID, which would lead to him hiring an attorney and waiting for a judge.

That process — nearly a year in the making — started when the DMV employee told Clinkscales, “I can’t take this birth certificate because your name isn’t on it,” and handed him back his slightly worn, wallet-sized birth certificate that shows his birth number, the county registrar’s name, his parents’ names and the one printed as his own: “Unnamed Clinkscales.”

Clinkscales, whose due date hovered around Christmas, was born prematurely in Greenville County on Nov. 18, 1953, leaving his mother, Loreda, and his father, Louie, unsure of whether he would survive, he said.

“So, they just put ‘Unnamed’ on the birth certificate,” said Clinkscales, the middle of six children and the only one with this dilemma.

The process of changing a birth certificate can be time-consuming, complicated and can be costly.

For starters, Leslie Fisk [managing attorney of South Carolina Legal Services’ Greenwood office] said clients must get their fingerprints made and pay for background, child custody and neglect and alimony checks, some of which can be waived through Legal Services and other nonprofits.

Other fees are charged, too, including a $150 court filing fee, unless a client can show they are unable to pay the charge.

“It’s also hard for people with low income to get rides and transportation and to have someone watch their kids,” said Fisk, who added it also can be traumatic for older adults to get their fingerprints taken.

Meanwhile, heavy caseloads for attorneys and Family Court that may meet once a month, particularly in the state’s more rural counties, can mean months of waiting. And, through the years, Fisk said, the state’s regulations on name changes have gotten tighter.

The process becomes overwhelming for people and “leads to people just giving up through frustration,” Fisk said.

In Clinkscales’ case, … they’re hopeful they’ll get a hearing by the fall.

Frustrated by the time lapse, Clinkscales said he’s considered simply changing his name to “Unnamed.”

But, he acknowledged, “I would have to change my Social Security card, my bank records. It would make it even more complicated.”

2019 Neighbor Day

On August 17, our Charleston office held its 14th Annual Neighbor Day. Held every summer, the event is an opportunity for South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) staff and neighborhood kids and their families to get to know each other. 

This year, the kids also got a free pair of shoes, a bag of school supplies and a health screening. The shoes, along with all other giveaways, were donated by local individuals and companies. The attendees could also enjoy free hot dogs, snacks, drinks, games and more. While the children were picking out their shoes, SCLS staff had an opportunity to tell folks about the free legal services we have available at SCLS.

A little rain didn’t stop anyone from having a good time.

A special thanks to our sponsors Rudy Loney, Ingevity, International Longshoremen’s Association , Limehouse Produce, ALL Family of Companies, Container Salvage Company Inc., Grand National, Dr. Stewart Middleton and Grand National Entertainment for making this event possible.

Legal Elite 2019

Every year, regional legal publications from around the state, honor their respective local attorneys by publishing their Legal Elite features. These features highlight the top attorneys in the region as voted on by other attorneys in that region. Every active attorney is eligible to participate and be recognized by his or her peers.

From our Greenville office, Managing Attorney and Education Law Unit Head, Kimaka Nichols-Graham was named as one of Legal Elite of the Upstate in Education Law.

From our Columbia office, Probate Law Unit Head and Lead Education Discipline Law Attorney, Jennifer Rainville was named as one of Legal Elite of the Midlands in Education Law.

Business Magazine Greenville

Business Monthly Columbia

Custody in the Age of Social Media

Fighting over custody or getting divorced can be one of the hardest times in a person’s life.  There are all sorts of unknowns and stressors that can cause any person involved in a family court case to worry and be unable to sleep.   Many people involved in a custody or divorce case find themselves angry and needing to vent or talk to someone about what they are going through.  They need to be able to say how horrible their spouse is or what needs to happen in their case.   With the rise in popularity of social media, many people with an ongoing case in family law will post their thoughts or feelings online. 

As an attorney, I have seen many cases turn on the fact that one party posted something on Facebook,  Snapchat, or another social media site.  Posting something negative about your child’s other parent is never a good idea, even if it is true.  Family Court judges want to see that parents can work together, respect each other, and co-parent.  Encouraging your child to have a healthy relationship with his or her other parent will look favorable on you in court.  Telling the world how awful your ex is, will only make you look bad. 

Some people use social media to brag about their lifestyle, wealth, how hard they partied last week, their favorite illegal drug, or who they are in a relationship with.  I have used these types of posts to show the court that the other party is making more money than what they declared. This can lead to a higher child support or alimony obligation if I can prove that the other party is not being truthful about their income. I have also used posted photos showing a party waving a gun around or smoking pot which can result in the court suspending visitation with that parent. 

Many temporary and final orders will have language that may prevent one parent from talking bad about the other parent in front of the child or discussing the case with the child.  Parents should read their court orders and follow it word for word.   Posting online that you told your child something or posting something knowing that your child could read it, could result in the court holding you in contempt. 

Many people are shocked to learn that a parent could be forced to turn over everything that they have ever posted or texted during the discovery phase of the case.  Many of my clients view what they post as private.  However, in custody and divorce proceedings there is little to no privacy.  Be prepared for everything that you ever posted on Facebook or any other site to be viewed by your ex and his or her attorney, and maybe even by a judge. 

Although social media can be fun and an easy way to vent and get things off your chest, I strongly caution my clients to be very careful about what they are posting online.  Posting online that you are “going to Aruba for vacation” but then claiming you cannot afford child support can land you in hot water with the court.  You can choose to stay out of trouble by not posting. 

A Lawyer Who Cares is a Lawyer Who Asks

The mind has a unique ability of savoring delightful memories.  Summer in the South makes me think about fresh cut grass, the sound and smell of a light rain that you can see marching across fields of your neighbor’s yard. We would play outside most of the day. Those are some of my memories associated with summer.  What will this generation of students remember about this summer?

This past school year, there was a new energy and increasing camaraderie about public education in South Carolina.  Everyone expressed a desire to improve education outcomes and find a way to support teaching as a profession.  What can South Carolina Legal Services do to improve educational outcomes?  We are a statewide law firm and we meet thousands of vulnerable or fragile families each year.  We are not educators.  We are not legislators. 

We are human, and many of the clients we serve are a part of various kinds of families or communities. 

  • We can take a moment and think about what an eviction will mean for a school aged child and explain the McKinney Vento Homeless Act. 
  • We can take a breath and ask what switching a “week on and week off” custody arrangement will do to a child. 
  • If a parent can no longer pay child support because she lost her job, we can ask her how else she can be involved in their lives. Maybe she can call more often, or text if that is how they communicate. 
  • When we are preparing documents for temporary hearings, we can ask which parent reads to or with the child at night. Encourage your client to be the parent who reads with her child.
  • We can ask clients to think about their child’s future. 
  • When working with parents on an affidavit for a temporary hearing, ask them to dedicate a paragraph to their child, and start off with that paragraph. Encourage them to reflect more on why they should have custody.
  • We can ask families that are struggling with budgeting what they would like to teach their child about managing finances.
  • We can ask people that are struggling with keeping steady employment if they have thought about creating a small business or a separate source of income based on a hobby they enjoy or a skill they possess.   
  • We can ask our clients if they have noticed whether their child is aware of the stress they are experiencing, and whether have they thought about how stress can impact their child.

We cannot educate. We cannot legislate.  We cannot preach.  We can ask. After all, we are masters at carefully adding information into the record with leading questions. Never underestimate a lawyer that cares.