Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Rick Brundrett of The Nerve just published an excellent story about the U.S. Supreme Court's grant of cert in a child support contempt case. He writes:
The nation’s top court will hear the appeal of an indigent Upstate father who contends his rights were violated because he wasn’t provided an attorney before being jailed for failing to pay child support.
The U.S. Supreme Court this month announced it accepted the case of Michael D. Turner v. Rebecca Price and the S.C. Department of Social Services. Oral arguments could be heard as early as March, with a ruling by the nine-member court likely by the end of June, based on the court's past practice, Greenville lawyer Derek Enderlin, one of Turner’s appellate attorneys, told The Nerve on Monday.
Having an appeal accepted by the top court is a rare legal feat: Out of about 10,000 petitions the justices receive annually, only about 100 are heard during a term, which started last month.
The Nerve previously profiled Turner’s case in April and August.
The S.C. Supreme Court unanimously ruled on March 29 that indigent parents didn't have the right to an attorney in civil contempt hearings. Turner appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
South Carolina is one of only five states in the nation – along with Georgia, Florida, Maine and Ohio – that don’t guarantee indigent parents who owe child support the right to an attorney in civil contempt hearings that can result in jail time, according to Turner’s U.S. Supreme Court petition.
That situation creates modern-day debtors’ prisons, as judges are more likely to jail indigent parents without attorneys for contempt, Turner and his supporters say in court papers.
At any given time in South Carolina, there are about 1,500 people in jail for non-payment of child support, the vast majority of who were sentenced for civil contempt, according to research in 2005 and 2009 by Elizabeth “Libba” Patterson, a University of South Carolina law professor and former director of the S.C. Department of Social Services.
“The system just isn’t working that well,” Enderlin, who represented Turner for free before the S.C. Supreme Court, told The Nerve. “We’re putting people in jail, and by the time they get out, they’re twice as much in debt.”
Enderlin said he plans to attend the oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court. The lead appellate attorney, who also is representing Turner at no cost, is Seth Waxman of Washington, D.C., a former U.S. solicitor general appointed by President Bill Clinton.
Read more here.