Low-income Californians to get free representation in civil court

Chris Rizo Oct. 27, 2009, 12:53pm

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)-Lower-income Californians will gain a new right next year -- free legal representation in certain civil cases -- at least temporarily.

The so-called "Civil Gideon law" will provide legal counsel for poor Californians doing such things as fighting evictions, home foreclosures or in family law matters such as child custody disputes and cases of neglect.

The Civil Gideon pilot program will run from July 1, 2011, until July 1, 2017.

Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the bill this month. The pilot program will be bankrolled with a $10 increase in court fees for prevailing parties. The fee increase is expected to generate roughly $11 million annually.

The law is named for the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gideon vs. Wainwright that established indigent criminal defendants' constitutional right to an attorney.

Sponsored by state Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, the new law, outlined in Assembly Bill 590, will fund public interest law groups. Firms receiving program money will be chosen by the Judicial Council of California, which administers the state court system.

Californians living at 200 percent above the federal poverty guidelines or less will be eligible for the program, meaning that a family of four with an annual income of $44,100 will qualify.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1981 -- in the case of Lassiter v. Dept. of Social Services -- ruled that there is not a constitutional right to counsel in civil cases.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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