United States Supreme Court accepts certiorari on South Carolina child support enforcement case

Yesterday the United States Supreme Court accepted certiorari on the South Carolina case of Price v. Turner,  387 S.C. 142, 691 S.E.2d 470 (2010).  The question Mr. Turner asked the Supreme Court to address was “Whether the Supreme Court of South Carolina erred in holding – in conflict with twenty-two federal courts of appeals and state courts of last resort – that an indigent defendant has no constitutional right to appointed counsel at a civil contempt proceeding that results in his incarceration.”  In addition the United States Supreme Court asked the parties to brief and argue the question “Does the Court Have Jurisdiction to Review the Decision of The South Carolina Supreme Court?”

The United States Supreme Court typically accepts certiorari on a few family law cases each decade.  I could not tell you the last time that court accepted certiorari in a South Carolina family law case.  For South Carolina family law attorneys who enjoy jurisprudence, it’s exciting that the United States Supreme Court accepted certiorari on a local case.

While I am generally critical of the way that the South Carolina family courts use contempt to enforce child support orders (See: Is the application of civil contempt in South Carolina’s “daddy round-ups” improper?), I actually agree with the South Carolina Supreme Court’s decision that an indigent is not entitled to court appointed counsel to defend charges of mere civil contempt.  On the other hand I believe no one in Mr. Turner’s case ever analyzed whether he had the present ability to pay the nearly $6,000 he was ordered to pay to end his civil contempt incarceration, and thus his case is subject to the criticism my blog above noted.  However that is not a question either the South Carolina nor the United States Supreme Court has been asked to address.

It is curious that the United States Supreme Court asked the parties to brief and argue whether it had jurisdiction to review the South Carolina Supreme Court decision.  Since Mr. Turner’s claim was based on the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and since the United States Supreme Court is always entitled to review state court decisions that rely upon federal constitutional principles, it is unclear why the United States Supreme Court thinks it might not have jurisdiction.  I guess we’ll find out later.

Meanwhile, kudos to local attorney Susan Dunn, who was one of the Amici Curiae attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union in support of Mr. Turner in the South Carolina Supreme Court.  This is the second case in which she’s been involved where the United States Supreme Court has accepted certiorari; Ferguson v. Charleston, 532 US 67 (2001) was the first.  Few attorneys have certiorari accepted in any of their cases.  My parents would literally burst with pride if one of my cases made it to the United States Supreme Court.  For it to happen twice to an attorney such as Ms. King, who is in private practice and who doesn’t specialize in appeals–especially United States Supreme Court appeals–is quite remarkable.

Eventually, I may need to petition the United States Supreme Court for certiorari in the case of Ware v. Ware, from which I received an adverse ruling in the South Carolina Court of Appeals last month.  It’s unlikely the United States Supreme Court will accept certiorari on two South Carolina family law appeals in one decade.  What’s good for Mr. Turner may be bad for Mr. Ware.

Put Mr. Forman’s experience, knowledge, and dedication to your service for any of your South Carolina family law needs.

Retain Mr. Forman
  • “[M]ere civil contempt” charges resulting in a term of incarceration should absolutely trigger the provision of an attorney, particularly where the person is told that release is conditioned upon payment of a large sum of money… and the person is indigent! Alternatively, the imposition of a jail sentence (deprivation of liberty) should be deemed an unconstitutional sanction in these circumstances.

    You can’t get blood from a stone. Where child support is owed and it is clear that the non-custodial parent can not pay, doesn’t it make more sense for the government to pay some interim support and allow the parent continued opportunity to work than to lock him up and pay for the cost of incarceration plus the societal cost of children who are insufficiently cared for financially?

    • Jill,

      You should read the blog on daddy round-ups that this blog cites. The contemnor is supposed to have the key to the jail house in his pocket if he’s being sanctioned for civil contempt.

      If Mr. Turner had the full $6,000.00 in liquid assets, I’d have no problem holding him in civil contempt without an attorney and incarcerating him until he paid the full $6,000.00. If Mr. Turner had $2,000.00 in liquid assets, I’d have no problem holding him in civil contempt without an attorney and incarcerating him until he paid $2,000.00. If Mr. Turner had $2.00 in liquid assets, I’d have no problem holding him in civil contempt without an attorney and incarcerating him until he paid the $2.00.

      Incarcerating him for civil contempt when he lacked the ability to pay the amount needed to effectuate his release is the problem. Failing to provide him an attorney to defend a civil contempt claim is not the problem.

  • Ms. Dunn reminds me of why I have been a card-carrying member of the ACLU since 1988.

    Issues regarding the collection of past due child support are difficult. I have represented mothers who need the support and the fathers claim an inability to pay as ordered. I have also represented fathers who do not have the ability to pay. Anyone who practices in family court knows that anyone in jail can raise more money faster than anyone not in jail. However, the constitution should not be subverted just to make it easier for mothers to feed, clothe, and house their children. The facts in Price v. Turner are particularly egregious.

    Good luck Ms. Dunn.

  • Best wishes to Susan Dunn.

  • Your blog is a great source for discussion of South Carolina domestic law (and policy!). I really enjoy reading something that is intelligent, insightful, and goes so far beyond the daily “nuts and bolts”. Kudos!

  • Gunslingergregi

    I guess family court/divorce lawyers better hope there is no God.

    ””””If Mr. Turner had the full $6,000.00 in liquid assets, I’d have no problem holding him in civil contempt without an attorney and incarcerating him until he paid the full $6,000.00. If Mr. Turner had $2,000.00 in liquid assets, I’d have no problem holding him in civil contempt without an attorney and incarcerating him until he paid $2,000.00. If Mr. Turner had $2.00 in liquid assets, I’d have no problem holding him in civil contempt without an attorney and incarcerating him until he paid the $2.00.”””””’

    Ever thought about once people have nothing and then what if they have that same kind of attitude about lawyers and also don’t give a dam.
    I mean with 35,000 suicides a year at moment probably means something is obviously wrong in the us.

    Whole point is the woman recieves 7k a year for 2 kids which is more than enough to pay for their incidental expenses. That is just the tax return she gets. She can also get her very own free apertment. Free bills. She also gets health care free.

    The man gets no free healthcare and better not get fired or go to jail.

    The woman can also more easily marry another man who has money while a man will have dificulty finding a sugar moma lol

    Think about it. What rights do men have at all if they can’t decide how much to give the mother of their children after a break-up.

    Yea of course you are making money off of it but that doesn’t make it right.

    Yea notice guys always have that tuf stance against other men and then when it comes to woman it is kid glove time.

    Well yea anyway think about the diference in treatment.

    My dad and uncle both raised kids with no child support and no alimony payments from the mothers by working.

    Maybe we need to re-think automatically assuming a woman should get custody if she needs so many safety nets to be able to do it in addition to enslaving the father and giving an excuse to say deadbeat dad.
    We don’t even need to call them deadbeat moms. Just give kid to dad and he will handle it.

  • John

    50/50 rotating custody should be the rule. NO “non-custodial” parents. NO “custodial” parents….Then all the “family” court lawyers would be as indigent as Turner now wouldn’t they?
    Bottom line is if Turner wins, more money for lawyers. If he loses, more money for the jailer.
    Whole thing is nothing but one big racket with kids on the losing end.

    • Johnny

      I served 30 days in jail for not paying my ex-wifes attorney fees! and I was on unemployment! Her child support was up to date until I went to jail. I go back this monday, June 27th, 2011 in Durham family court in NC. So don’t think for a minute its only jail for no child support . Mine was jail for not paying her attorney’s fees. I filed chapter 7 bankruptcy yeterday. The court will probably make an issue of me borrowing the $300.00 bucks to file my chapter 7 pro se. Oh yeah, I haven’t seeen my kids in 4 months and the only allegation was “they were tired at school” after my spend the nights.
      Its extortion and blackmail plain and simple. Anybody wanna help me write a book about this process? I’ve lived it. My email is johnbyronroberts@gmail.com.
      Probably could get another Supreme court case out of mine if anyone is interested.

  • Tim

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