New York City Embraces Civil Gideon

New York City’s Right to Counsel bill, proposed by Councilmember Mark Levine (pictured), passed on Thursday. Photo Credit: MoneyBox online article, 7/21/17

New York City’s Right to Counsel bill, proposed by Councilmember Mark Levine (pictured), passed on Thursday. Photo Credit: MoneyBox online article, 7/21/17

The argument for Civil Gideon process took a major step forward last week when the New York City Council passed legislation in support of legal representation in eviction cases. Sponsored by Manhattan City Council Representative Matt Levine, the measure allows the city to appoint counsel for those facing eviction court.
Though Mayor Bill DeBlasio is expected to sign the bill, the process will not happen overnight. The plan is to phase the assistance in over a five year period. A recent article in Slate Magazine pointed out that in the 150,000 housing eviction cases in the city, tenants in eviction cases were victorious in 77% of cases when legal counsel was appointed.

Read the Slate story here:

http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2017/07/21/new_york_city_has_taken_up_the_fight_against_the_eviction_machine_in_a_big.html

D.C. Among Those Talking ‘Civil Gideon’ for Evictions

At some D.C. apartments, where tenants are overwhelmingly poor and recipients of housing vouchers, any violation of the lease — even walking your dog without a collar — becomes grounds for a suit for eviction. But far more common is suing over nonpayment of rent. Shown is Brookland Manor, a low-income housing complex that is undergoing redevelopment. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

At some D.C. apartments, where tenants are overwhelmingly poor and recipients of housing vouchers, any violation of the lease — even walking your dog without a collar — becomes grounds for a suit for eviction. But far more common is suing over nonpayment of rent. Shown is Brookland Manor, a low-income housing complex that is undergoing redevelopment. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

A trio of Washington, D.C., council members are making the case for a limited “civil Gideon” provision for District residents facing evictions. In a Washington Post op/ed, the three Democrats admit that their city might one considered already “tenant friendly” but that the legal policy is needed.

“Many tenants are pressured by lawyers representing their landlords to settle their case in the hallways outside of the courtrooms,” they write. “If you don’t understand the legalese, it’s hard to know what’s happening to you and it’s almost impossible to know what your options are. All the while, you just want to avoid becoming homeless.

The offer these stats: Of the 33,000 eviction cases filed annually in the District, fewer than 10 percent of tenants have legal representation during an eviction hearing; more than 90 percent of landlords are represented.

For background, they note a national movement: “… this is a small part of a larger national trend called ‘civil Gideon,’ a nod to the case that established the right to counsel for criminal defendants and is now a growing movement to create a right to counsel in civil cases.

See the piece here: Opinion | Low-income tenants in D.C. may soon get legal help

Florida Newspaper Endorsed ‘Civil Gideon’

Scales of justice (freeimages.com)

Scales of justice (freeimages.com)

Citing research from the Florida Bar Association, The Orlando Sentinel newspaper has taken a strong stand on “Civil Gideon,” the idea that some civil cases demand the same right to an attorney as criminal cases.
In an editorial, the paper cites economic benefits from a study commissioned by The Florida Bar Foundation: “… the study concluded that every dollar spent on civil legal aid for lower-income Floridians yields more than $7 in benefits. As Bar Foundation President Matthew Brenner said, ‘Equal justice under law is not only a basic underpinning of our democracy; it’s also good economic policy.'”
Adds the paper: In short, it’s a better deal for taxpayers to invest at the front end to help fellow Floridians solve problems in civil court, instead of paying more to deal with the consequences to the state’s economy of unsolved problems at the back end. This same logic would apply — and should appeal — to other potential legal aid contributors, including the business community and nonprofits. Here’s how the math works.”
The mainstream endorsement is a milestone for the Civil Gideon movement. Read it here:
Invest in access to civil justice: Where We Stand

Trump’s Election Boosting Efforts For ‘Civil Gideon’ Style Reform

Photo Credit: LA Times video clip 1/3/2017

Photo Credit: LA Times video clip 1/3/2017

One impact of the pending Trump administration is already being felt as some states and cities are preparing funds to fight deportation. While it’s only one part of the issue, the funding is a boost to the movement for a “civil Gideon” policy that would provide a right to an attorney in some civil cases – like the right to an attorney for criminal cases. The Gideon case was the policy-setting decision for that criminal-case right.

Immigration advocates have long argued that some deportation cases should be among those requiring representation, especially when children are involved. Funding has always been part of the discussion, but some governments are finding cash in the wake of President-Elect Trump’s victory. For example, the Los Angeles Times reports that  LA city and county leaders have “… unveiled a $10-million fund to provide legal assistance for residents facing deportation, the region’s boldest move yet as it prepares for an expected crackdown on illegal immigration by Donald Trump. If approved by lawmakers, Los Angeles’ two top government agencies could find themselves in the position of using public funds to challenge policies sought by the White House and Republican Congress.”

Similar efforts are under way in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and the state of New York.

Read more here:
http://www.latimes.com/local/ lanow/la-me-ln-lafund- 20161219-story.html

Writer Makes Great Case For ‘Civil Gideon’ Rights

AP/John Minchillo A protestor holds his fist in the air during a demonstration outside Hamilton County Courthouse in Cincinnati, November 11, 2016.

AP/John Minchillo
A protestor holds his fist in the air during a demonstration outside Hamilton County Courthouse in Cincinnati, November 11, 2016.

If you’re looking for a great argument in favor of a “civil Gideon” right to counsel in some non-criminal cases, you can’t do much better than an article by Rebecca Backwater-Poza posted at the Center for American Progress. Civil Gideon refers to the criminal-law right to an attorney even if you can’t afford one. The “civil” idea is that some life-altering cases, especially involving housing evictions and family law, should include representation for the poor.
 
She notes that: “While 90 to 95 percent of landlords are represented by lawyers before the Landlord and Tenant Branch of the D.C. Superior Court, only 5 to 10 percent of tenants have legal assistance.2 Unlike criminal defendants, parties in civil cases do not have a generalized right to counsel. While all states provide a right to counsel for at least a few types of civil cases, most parties in civil cases that involve high stakes and basic human needs, such as housing, do not have a right to representation.3
 
In more than three-fourths of all civil trial cases in the United States, at least one litigant does not have a lawyer.4 Figures are even starker when it comes to family law, domestic violence, housing, and small-claims matters—those involving disputes over amounts up to $25,000, depending on the state. At least one party lacks representation in 70 to 98 percent of these cases.” 
 
She also notes that those are only the cases that make to to court; many do not, often because people do not know their rights. It’s compelling reporting.
 

Former NY Prosecutor Outlines ‘The Real Crisis’ For Immigration

Quotas for depriving people of their liberty (KATE BRUMBACK/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Quotas for depriving people of their liberty (KATE BRUMBACK/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Over the last five years, the budget for immigration courts grew by 74% — but the budget for immigration enforcement agencies grew by over 400%. The result is gridlock that makes those old criminal court dockets look like models of efficiency.

Former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, writing in the New York Daily News, outlines just how bad the U.S. immigration court crisis has become, blaming political pressures and adding that “… the result is a backlog that staggers the imagination. Today, when immigrants ask when they need to return to court, many are told in 2023.”

 Morgenthau outlines the oft-cited, but still hard to believe, stats: “According to the most recent data from a think tank at Syracuse University, there are currently pending before our immigration courts over half a million removal cases. That averages about 2,000 cases per judge.”

The writer offers some solutions and begins with judges: “What is to be done? Regardless of how one feels about immigration reform generally, everyone can agree that we need to restore sanity to immigration court. First, immigration judges should be real judges. Right now, they are employees of the Justice Department, and not genuinely independent.”

He also makes a call for a sort of Civil Gideon, the idea that some civil cases (as opposed to criminal cases) should require representation (immigration cases are considered civil actions): “Congress must also ensure that immigrants get proper legal representation when their basic rights are at stake… a study published this month disclosed that in 70% of cases involving adults with children, there was no legal representation for the family.”

And, obviously, increase capacity. It’s a well-considered piece from somebody who knows of what they speak. Read it, and find the writer’s other missives on immigration and other issues, here:

 Robert Morgenthau: America’s real immigration crisis

‘Civil Gideon’ Finding Support From NYC Council

Councilman Mark Levine at a rally at New York City Hall on Monday in support of a bill that would provide legal help to low-income tenants facing eviction. Credit Dave Sanders for The New York Times

Councilman Mark Levine at a rally at New York City Hall on Monday in support of a bill that would provide legal help to low-income tenants facing eviction. Credit Dave Sanders for The New York Times

The New York Times continues to cover the Big Apple’s efforts to provide some level of ‘civil Gideon’ to residents facing housing evictions. The term refers to providing civil representation in some cases, usually immigration and family law issues but also evictions, in the same way public defenders represent criminal defendants who cannot afford an attorney.
 
The NYT reports that “… despite $62 million set aside this fiscal year by Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, to bolster legal help, more than 70 percent of low-income tenants in New York City still go without lawyers in Housing Court, according to a report published in June by the newly created Office of Civil Justice, part of the city’s Human Resources Administration.
The story backgrounds that “… with landlords almost always represented by lawyers, tenants are overmatched from the start, tenant advocates and city officials say. Across the city last year, there were nearly 22,000 evictions, with the greatest number in the Bronx.”
 
And, reporting on a meeting in late September, the NYT says that “… the City Council held a hearing on a bill that would make New York City the first jurisdiction in the country to guarantee lawyers for any low-income residents facing eviction. Under the measure, tenants who make below 200 percent of the federal poverty line would qualify. (For a single person, the cutoff would be $23,540; for a family of four, it would be $48,500.) The bill, which has already garnered the support of an overwhelming majority of council members, is part of a broader effort gaining momentum across the country to create a right to counsel for people in high-stake legal cases like evictions and foreclosures.”
 
You can read the entire NYT piece here: For Tenants Facing Eviction, New York May Guarantee a Lawyer

Conn. Takes Steps Toward ‘Civil Gideon’ Momentum

GavelFor some time, Connecticut Bar Association President William Clendenen Jr. has focused on the “justice gap” facing low and moderate income residents facing serious legal issues. So it’s no surprise that the state’s bar association, via its regular publication, is endorsing an effort by Democratic state Sen. Martin Looney to create a “Civil Gideon” task force, an important step if the state is ever going to address the issue.

Looney, who is the Senate president, has introduced a bill that would create a wide-ranging group to “… recommend the best ways to address the legal needs of the increasing number of people compelled to represent themselves when facing serious civil legal problems,” explains a piece in the Connecticut Law Tribune.

The CLT backgrounds that: “… [aid groups] are able to accept only a fraction of requests for assistance from eligible applicants. Those with modest incomes who do not qualify for free legal services are finding it increasingly difficult to afford market-rate legal fees. As a consequence, thousands of individuals and families face eviction and foreclosure notices, child custody proceedings, domestic violence hearings and other legal challenges involving basic human rights and interests without the support of legal advocates. Last year, nearly a quarter of all civil cases in Connecticut had one or more self-represented litigants. In family cases, the number rose to 85 percent.”

Eight of ten in family court. Wow! Read more here:

‘Civil Gideon’ Task Force Would Be an Important First Step

Wisconsin High Court Asks For Study On ‘Civil Gideon’ Options

 
Saying it recognizes that thousands of its citizens are unable to afford legal services in civil cases, the Wisconsin Supreme Court is asking the state Joint Legislative Council to study how to improve legal access for those who cannot afford a lawyers. The Council’s role is to establish special committees to study major issues and recommend legislation every two years.
 
The Wisconsin Bar Association website reports that “… the court notes it has considered several other rule changes over the years to increase access to civil legal services, including a so-called Civil Gideon petition, which would require courts to appoint counsel in certain civil cases. The court acknowledged the need for increased legal services but did not approve the Civil Gideon petition for lack of funding. Funding remains an issue for the court system.” The “Civil Gideon” movement, led by programs in San Francisco and New York, is the idea that certain civil cases should include a right to an attorney similar to that provided criminal defendants. It is named after a landmark case that made criminal representation the law of the land.
 
In its  press release last week. the court noted that one objective of a proposed Wisconsin Joint Legislative Council study committee would be to “brainstorm other possible sources of assistance and help to plan the most effective means of delivering services.” Read more at the WisBar website: State Supreme Court Seeks Legislative Study on Access to Civil Legal Services.

Balt. Lawyer Group: Freddie Gray Illustrates Civil Justice Issues

 
Photo from The Baltimore Sun report, "Lawyers launch fresh push to get poor represented in Maryland civil courts," 2/2/16

Photo from The Baltimore Sun report, “Lawyers launch fresh push to get poor represented in Maryland civil courts,” 2/2/16

A new Baltimore-based attorney’s group is referencing Freddie Gray in its push for free access to civil attorneys in some cases like child custody decisions and home evictions, the Baltimore Sun reports. Leadership of the Access to Justice Commission says that “… Gray, the 25-year-old West Baltimore man who suffered a fatal injury in police custody last April, grew up in housing with lead paint. He agreed to convert a major lead paint settlement that would pay out over many years into a lump sum that ultimately was worth far less.”
 
Reporter Ian Duncan writes that the group, “some of Maryland’s top lawyers,” has “launched a fresh drive Monday to have poor people represented by attorneys in civil cases in an effort to spare the vulnerable from what they see as predatory legal practices, such as buying out lead paint settlements for cents on the dollar.”
 
The story quotes sate Rep. Elijah E. Cummings using language usually reserved for addressing shortcomings in the criminal justice system (as opposed to civil cases): “If you do not have justice, then you’ll have the absence of peace…. I’m seeing it more and more, and … at some point, people explode. So we have a duty.”
 
The idea of requiring some civil cases to have a “right to attorney” similar to criminal cases is often called “civil Gideon,” after the landmark Supreme Court case that cemented the right to an attorney so often referenced in TV programs. Some cities, most notably San Francisco and New York, have moved toward civil Gideon, often citing potential cost savings if fewer people lose their homes.
 
Read more about the Baltimore group here.