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Schwarzenegger wants Civil Right to Counsel Pilot Project


 California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has included a civil right to counsel pilot project in his newly-submitted Budget 2007 – 2008.  Here’s how the California Budget website summarizes the proposal:

  • Access to Justice Pilot Program – The Budget includes $5 million General Fund, on a three-year limited-term basis, to implement a pilot program in three Superior Courts to identify and provide representation to unrepresented litigants in a wide range of civil matters, including domestic violence restraining orders, family law, child support, paternity, unlawful detainer, and probate. This pilot program will improve the courts’ ability to handle its entire caseload and help relieve court congestion.
  • Update (Feb. 6, 2007): Learn more about this Pilot Program in our follow-up post

The staff of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School says “The proposed $5 million pilot program would deliver funding on a three-year limited-term basis to provide counsel for pro se litigants in high stakes civil matters.”” (via Cyrus Dugger at TortDeform weblog, Jan. 19, 2007)  The civil right to counsel is a major focus of the Brennan Center’s Access to Justice program.  Last year, two staff members published “State Statutes Providing for a Right to Counsel in Civil Cases,” Clearinghouse Review Journal of Poverty Law and Policy, by Laura K. Abel and Max Rettig, July–August 2006 (26-pp pdf).  Here’s the introduction to that article:

“Over the past few decades, states have passed hundreds of laws and court rules guaranteeing the right to counsel in a wide variety of civil cases. These laws have received little attention and merit more. They are surprising in their number (in the hundreds) and in the many different types of cases they cover (family law matters, involuntary commitment proceedings, medical treatment, and many others). They also vary widely in the extent to which they ensure that the counsel provided is competent and effective.  In this article we give an overview of the statutes and rules.

“The genesis of state right-to-counsel laws varies. Some implement court decisions establishing a constitutional right to counsel in one or more types of proceedings.  Others implement federal laws requiring the provision of counsel to specific types of individuals, such as members of the military or Indian children facing removal from their parents. Still others flow from a legislature’s belief that providing counsel in a particular type of case is good social policy.

“Here we discuss the types of cases where a statute or court rule provides for a right to counsel and the extent to which state right-to-counsel statutes attempt to ensure that counsel is competent. A table of a cross-section of state right-to-counsel statutes follows.”

blackCheckS Abel & Rettig put together a lengthy table showing state laws mandating (or giving discrection to appoint) civil counsel in many subject areas.  Of course, there may be additional laws or amendments since publication.


  1. - blog

    January 21, 2007 @ 10:34 pm


    […] The Governor of California has just recently proposed a state budget that includes $5 million over three years to provide counsel to otherwise self-represented litigants in civil cases.  Although nobody seems to have details yet about how the program would work, it’s probably some form of judicare. Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Reply […]

  2. shlep: the Self-Help Law ExPress » Blog Archive » Family Law Civil Gideon: are free lawyers always the best approach?

    March 9, 2007 @ 3:29 pm


    […] “Civil Gideon” is the right — and the name of the movement to obtain the constitutional or legislative right — of low-income individuals to the appointment of a lawyer when basic human needs (such as those involving shelter, sustenance, safety, health or child custody) are at stake in a court proceeding. The name comes from the analogy to the right to counsel in criminal cases, which was announced by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Gideon v. Wainwright. [see our prior post on a pilot project in California]  […]

  3. Ted King

    June 4, 2007 @ 12:43 pm


    The argument of Right to Counsel is not only that the state should finance legal services for the poor; but rather, there is a Right to Counsel in civil actions that is not to be thwarted by agreements between lawyers and law firm not to sue each other. If a law firm is among those law firms that have agreed not to accept legal malpractice cases, then the argument becomes involved with a dfferent part of the Constitution. What part would that be? Which law is violated by resticting lawsuits through non-agression pacts?

  4. david giacalone

    June 4, 2007 @ 5:52 pm


    Ted, I can’t think of any Constitutional section that would deal with agreements not to bring legal malpractice suits, but you’d need to ask a Constitution Law expert or someone who has done research on the topic. Also, you might want to seek antitrust advice on whether an actual agreement (conspiracy) not to bring malpractice cases against other lawyers is an unlawful antitrust boycott of clients needing such assistance. However, without a “smoking gun,” showing an actual agreement might be very difficult, because every law firm has the right to decide independently for itself that it does not want to engage in legal malpractice law — a specialty that could make you very unpopular with your legal brethren. You don’t need an agreement to not want to engage in legal malpractice cases, and an agreement can be rather ineffective, since lawyers outside the conspiracy can foil it. Many lawyers also reject a lot of clients — especially on a contingency basis — because they simply do not think that the particular facts add up to malpractice, so taking the case is too risky. I hope this helps and I cannot get into the facts of your particular situation.

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