Getting to Business on Civil Gideon
This article in the Providence Journal opens with the question: Should taxpayers provide lawyers for needy in civil cases? Some excerpts from the article for your consideration:
“In courts across this country, day in and day out, people forfeit basic rights, sacrificing basic needs — not because the law and the facts are against them, but because they don’t have counsel,” New England School of Law Prof. Russell Engler said.
For example, about 90 percent of tenants don’t have lawyers in eviction cases, Engler said. “It means the typical case pits a represented party against an unrepresented one — a basic mismatch with devastating consequences,” he said.
Judge Charles P. Kocoras, a senior U.S. district judge for the Northern District of Illinois, said, “Any system of justice, to be worthy of respect and emulation, must be reasonably available to all of our citizens, whether rich or poor, bright or ignorant, wise or foolish.”
“We all treasure liberty and freedom, and it is acknowledged that the loss of either must be accomplished in the fairest systems humans can devise,” Kocoras said. So, he asked, “how can it be less” when it comes to “things like custody and responsibility for children, the threat of loss of worldly possessions like homes and wealth, or the ability to live in a country that may provide equality of opportunity where others may not. The loss of any of these things may stain the person’s life in the future, perhaps even more than the loss of liberty for a fixed period.”
But, Engler emphasized, “This is not a pie in the sky that can wait. There’s too many litigants suffering dire consequences where basic needs are at stake in the courts who need our attention now.”
An estimated 80 percent of the legal needs of the poor go unmet, Engler said. “Particularly in the state courts, although this carries over into the federal courts, the courts are flooded with people in civil cases where people don’t have lawyers,” he said. “There’s a lot of reasons for that. The most common is they can’t afford it.”
Read the full article here.