States look to provide lawyers for the poor in civil cases

More than two dozen bills being considered in 18 states this year would provide public defenders or private lawyers at state expense for low-income people in certain civil cases.

News Story (Connecticut, NATIONAL)

Dave Collins
Associated Press (AP)
March 30, 2016

Tags: Civil Right to Counsel, Justice for All

Organizations mentioned/involved: National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel (NCCRC), Greater Hartford Legal Aid (GHLA), Public Justice Center (PJC), SeniorLaw Center (PA)


flood of poor defendants representing themselves — often ineffectively — in dire cases involving eviction, foreclosure, child custody and involuntary commitment has led to a push in legislatures to expand rights to free lawyers in certain civil proceedings.


“When your basic human needs are at stake, you should have a lawyer to protect those needs,” said John Pollock, a lawyer with the Public Justice Center who coordinates the national coalition. “The consequences are too great.”

The spike in self-represented defendants stems from the Great Recession, which not only created new waves of foreclosure, eviction, debt collection and bankruptcy cases, but also hindered people’s ability to pay for lawyers, judges and lawyers say. Such cases have overwhelmed and slowed court dockets, judges say.