Originally created 08/30/97

Condon: Inmates still get free suits

COLUMBIA - South Carolina's court clerks should enforce a 1996 law designed to cut down on frivolous lawsuits by prison inmates, Attorney General Charlie Condon says.

Clerks are supposed to charge inmates the same fees anyone else would pay, but some still aren't doing it, Mr. Condon said Friday.

"Clerks of courts all over the state are still accepting complaints from inmates without assessing the required fees," Mr. Condon said.

Many clerks did not know about the change, said Mary Brown, Berkeley County clerk and president of the state association of court clerks.

"No one has contacted us, neither the attorney general nor court administration," she said.

Ms. Brown said she learned of the change earlier this month and has scheduled a session on the law for the clerks' annual meeting in October.

Richland County Court Clerk Barbara Scott said she has been complying.

"The only time we file a summons complaint from an inmate without a filing fee is when we have been directed to do so by a judge," Ms. Scott said.

A similar federal law has reduced the number of lawsuits filed by inmates in U.S. District Court, Mr. Condon said.

"If we don't do the same thing, inmates will flood state courts with suits they would previously have filed in federal courts," Mr. Condon said.

Prisoners had sued 32 times in state courts by June 27, which equaled the total for all of 1996, he said, citing a study by Charleston lawyer Sandra Senn.

She said she reviewed data from the state Insurance Reserve Fund, which Ms. Senn said defends most suits filed by inmates.

"Because they aren't required to work, inmates can lie around all day dreaming up schemes to strike back at the legal system," Mr. Condon said.

Mr. Condon estimated each inmate's lawsuit cost the state between $2,500 and $5,000. He said he would attempt to recover unpaid fees from inmates who sued after the change went into effect.

"When inmates have to choose between a frivolous lawsuit and Cokes and candy, they'll choose Cokes and candy every time," Mr. Condon said.


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