The Supreme Court of South Carolina
Re: Pilot Program for Continuing Legal Education Credits for
Pro Bono Participation in the Charleston Housing Court
Appellate Case No. 2021-000392
The Supreme Court of South Carolina established the Charleston Housing Court Pilot Project in 2019 to create an eviction docket on specific days in three Magistrate Courts in Charleston County.1 The project has expanded to a fourth Magistrate Court in Charleston County and will likely see more expansion in the future.
Since its creation in 2019, the Charleston Housing Court has provided legal representation to litigants at hundreds of eviction hearings. Many of the parties who come into the Housing Court are unrepresented, and thus, the Housing Court relies primarily on pro bono attorneys to volunteer their time and legal services to represent parties. Organizers and judges of the Housing Court have sought ways to encourage attorneys to represent litigants on a pro bono basis. However, as many pro bono efforts in other contexts demonstrate, it is difficult to find attorneys willing to volunteer their time and effort without pay. As such, a small number of lawyers represent the bulk of the litigants in the Housing Court project.
On behalf of the Charleston Housing Court, the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission has requested the Court authorize a pilot program to incentivize more attorneys to volunteer their services in the Housing Court on a pro bono basis. As the Housing Court administrators point out, eviction rates are likely to spike after August 1, 2021, because of the impending end to the Centers for Disease Control's national eviction moratorium. This means we will soon see an increasing need for pro bono attorneys to participate in the Housing Court.
Therefore, the Court has approved a limited Pilot Program to provide Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credit to lawyers participating in the Charleston Housing Court. The Court finds incentivizing attorneys to offer pro bono services to litigants in the Housing Court will not only provide an important service to the community by increasing the number of attorneys who agree to participate but will also provide real-time experiential learning in a critical housing landscape to those pro bono attorneys who volunteer. The Program will also provide this Court and other organizations useful data on the effectiveness of incentivizing attorneys to provide pro bono services by rewarding those attorneys with CLE credit.
The Charleston Housing Court Pro Bono Pilot Program is approved and shall operate upon the following conditions:
(1) To participate in the Program, an attorney must complete a two (2) hour training program set up by the Housing Court, for which the attorney will receive two (2) hours of CLE credit required under Rule 408 of the South Carolina Appellate Court Rules as approved by the Commission on Continuing Legal Education.
(2) An attorney who completes the required training under (1) above, is eligible to receive up to four (4) additional hours of CLE credit per annual reporting year, provided:
(a) An attorney shall receive two (2) hours of CLE credit for each session of Housing Court the attorney attends, provided the attorney attends the entire session of Housing Court and the session lasts at least three (3) hours. An attorney shall not receive CLE credit under this provision for any session that lasts less than three (3) hours.
(b) An attorney may obtain a maximum of four (4) hours of CLE credit under (2)(a) per annual reporting year.
(c) Eligible attorneys must sign up for the session of Housing Court in advance through the Charleston Housing Court online volunteer portal: Sign Up Genius.2
(3) A supervisor from the Charleston Housing Court must approve in writing all requests for CLE credit under (2)(a) and submit such approval to the Commission on Continuing Legal Education.
(4) The Charleston Housing Court must collect and submit to this Court data regarding the success of the Program as outlined in the request submitted to the Court by the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission.
We appreciate the initiative taken by the Charleston Housing Court and the Access to Justice Commission for devising the Pro Bono Pilot Program. If other housing programs around the State wish to participate in this Pilot Program, we encourage the administrators of those programs to work with the Access to Justice Commission to get approval from this Court to participate.
This Order is effective immediately and shall remain in effect unless rescinded or modified by future order of the Court.
s/John W. Kittredge J.
s/Kaye G. Hearn J.
s/John Cannon Few J.
s/George C. James, Jr. J.
CHIEF JUSTICE BEATTY: I concur in the order of the majority. I write separately to acknowledge that evictions will pose a problem for the entire state and that legal representation is extremely beneficial to all concerned. I believe that every lawyer who volunteers his or her services should be allowed the same CLE credits as lawyers in Charleston. The pilot status of the program or an affiliation with an organization is irrelevant. The focus should be legal representation at eviction hearings. I urge any lawyer who volunteers their time at eviction hearings to petition this Court for the appropriate CLE credit.
s/Donald W. Beatty C.J.
Columbia, South Carolina
July 28, 2021
1 See Order 2019-05-24-01, available at https://www.sccourts.org/courtOrders/displayOrder.cfm?orderNo=2019-05-24-01.
2 Available at https://www.signupgenius.com/go/9040948a8a72fa7fd0-housing.