Montana Panel Finds Residents Expect Lawyers In Civil Actions, But Don’t Get One



After months of community meetings, a Montana panel has found (among other things) “… that low- to moderate-income Montanans most often face legal crises stemming from housing problems, custody disputes, domestic violence, and debt collection. These issues are often compounded with other complicating factors, the report said, such as mental illness or diminished capacity, substance abuse, physical disabilities, threats to safety, and child care. Many of these issues are intersectional, meaning they affect and intensify the other.”

The Flathead Beacon reported on the panel’s findings, noting that “… many Montanans don’t realize, for instance, that they don’t have the right to an appointed attorney while facing civil issues. They can be evicted, lose custody of their children, or lose their home without ever having the right to an attorney.”

The Beacon also reported that the Access to Justice Commission “… concluded that there needs to be a statewide inventory of services and programs available in each region, and a means for making this inventory known in those regions. Along with the inventory, the commission said there should be a means for linking Montanans with legal problems to the programs and service providers.”

Read the report, and find a link to the Commission’s complete findings, here:
Report Details Need for Education, Increased Access to Civil Legal Resources – Flathead

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.

NY Passes ‘Aspirational’ Civil Gideon Measure

Here’s another civil Gideon milestone: New York’s senate and assembly have passed a non-binding “policy” of providing legal assistance to “persons in need of the essentials of life,” becoming the first state to take such action to provide civil representation. San Francisco and other cities have some level of civil Gideon programming.
The resolution was suggested in a 2014 report to Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman by the Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services, to make the case for increasing available state funding for civil legal services over the past five state budgets.
Read more here.