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Orangeburg T&D: Trial lawyers are key players in justice system

South Carolina Association for Justice

The Orangeburg (S.C.) Times and Democrat have published a story about the South Carolina Association for Justice’s new name. The T&D editorial focuses on the importance of what used to be known as the SC Trial Lawyers Association and its continued role in preserving justice and individual rights.

From the Orangeburg Times and Democrat:

THE ISSUE: New name for trial lawyersCriminal Defense Attorney

OUR OPINION: Despite their critics, trial lawyers are key players in justice systems

Attorneys know the routine on lawyer jokes. They engage in ribbing and laughs with each other. It’s a tradition.

Press them, however, and attorneys contend their profession is unfairly targeted, even unappreciated. Without people to represent citizens — even the most publicly unpopular of defendants — the very fabric of our system breaks down. Plus, attorneys cite their public service, hours of free legal counsel donated annually and projects such as the attorney general’s program in which lawyers donate time in magistrate’s courts as prosecutors of domestic cases.

This week, the South Carolina Trial Lawyers Association — that group so often maligned by political critics as having too much influence in the legislative and judicial systems — went on the offensive.

The group has made a bold change in name. It is now the South Carolina Association for Justice — a change it says reflects the attorneys’ new, broader mission and better represents the purpose of the organization.

The name change was approved and finalized at the 2008 SCTLA/SCAJ annual convention on Hilton Head Island.

“The mission of the South Carolina Association for Justice involves more than courtroom battles,” said Pete Strom, former U.S. attorney for the District of South Carolina who assumed office as president at the convention. “We will also work with elected officials and policy-makers to create a legal system that protects everyone, not just the rich and the influential.”

SCAJ’s central mission to protect the rights of people will remain, but the group has expanded its purpose to become “the state’s leading advocate for justice and fairness under the law.”

Mike Hemlepp, recently named executive director of SCAJ, makes the point that attorneys are often the only resource ordinary citizens have to combat unfair treatment by government, corporations and powerful special interest groups.

“Our renewed focus and message discipline will enable us to better represent our members: attorneys who protect the citizens’ rights to access to justice.” he said. “When our opponents deride us for changing our name, it is clearly because they know that our new model will be effective and agile.”

As right as he is, Hemlepp knows that attorneys also face criticisms as the driving force behind a society that is lawsuit-happy. Critics constantly talk about reforms that limit damage awards — at times with good reason.

Attorneys also face attacks from groups that are every bit as much special interests as critics say the attorneys are.

One criticism has come in the form of a group known as HALT, which boasts 50,000 members devoted to consumer legal reform. Its Lawyer Discipline Report Card indicates attorneys are committed to a system of protecting each other.

In 2006, for example, HALT called the national report a “scathing indictment of attorney discipline agencies.” Grades assigned to disciplinary systems in all 50 states and the District of Columbia showed more than half the states at below C. Utah flunked outright. No state earned an A. South Carolina was ranked 44th in the nation and received a D-plus.

The results — no joking matter for anyone — must be looked at in the context of the mission of attorneys. By the nature of what they do, their role will not be universally popular. But in our system of justice, an Association for Justice is a vital ingredient.



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