“Civil Gideon”

The ABA has long pursued the concept of “Civil Gideon” which, loosely defined, means the right to a lawyer in civil cases (Gideon v. Wainwright was, of course, the case that guaranteed the right to counsel for criminal defendants). At the ABA Annual meeting in San Francisco in August, 2010, the resolution passed (click for related article). The resolution can be accessed by clicking this sentence.

This week the Fulton County Daily Report published an article about a lawsuit in Georgia which attempts to guarantee the right to counsel for certain civil defendants, particularly those at risk of incarceration for failue to pay child support (click to read article).

What a dilemma? While states such as Georgia are struggling to find funding to provide lawyers for defendants in criminal cases, there are now lawsuits being filed, such as the one referenced above, to require funding for lawyers for defendants in civil cases. The goal is noble and well intentioned, but the potential pitfalls are numerous. For instance, why should only the defendant receive such assistance? Perhaps the plaintiff who may be filing to receive support is even more worthy of the public’s assistance?

The beauty of America is that we can have this debate. While aspirational goals are great, when there is only so much funding available, sometimes aspirations must yield to practicality. It will be interesting to see where this case goes.