Wednesday, October 28, 2009

California to fund right to counsel for civil matters

California became the first state in the nation to adopt a broad policy to fund the right to counsel for certain civil cases, deemed to be basic human needs. It will be funded by an increase in court fees, and be expended through legal aide groups and grants. While it is a pilot project, actually becoming a working project in 2011, it's goals are high. It is also aimed at encouraging lawyers to meet the pro bono requirements for attorneys in the state. It will likely cover areas such as fighting eviction, loss of child custody, domestic abuse or neglect of the elderly or disabled, and has identified child custody as a key issue. It addresses "...the substantial inequities in timely and effective access to justice that often give rise to an undue risk of erroneous decision because of the nature and complexity of the law and the proceeding or disparities between the parties in education, sophistication, language proficiency, legal representation, access to self-help, and alternative dispute resolution services." The Sargent Shriver Civil Counsel Act was signed by Governor Schwarzenegger last week. Read the LA Times here and the Wall Street Journal here. For information on how Massachusetts deals with the issue of unrepresented litigants, see our Pro Se page here.