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In 2009, Chancellor Sayde Ladov formed the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Civil Gideon and Access to Justice Task Force (“Task Force”). The mission of the Task Force is to investigate and consider all aspects of an effective system of civil Gideon in Philadelphia, including the development of concrete and practicable proposals to advance the implementation of a civil right to counsel in those areas of adversarial civil proceedings where basic human needs are at stake. In a Resolution adopted by the Board of Governors in April 2009, the Task Force was charged with examining civil Gideon efforts underway in other states, developing strategies for implementing civil Gideon in Philadelphia and making recommendations in two areas of basic need: cases involving the loss of shelter and child custody.
In November of 2009, the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Board of Governors adopted the Task Force’s Preliminary Report, Findings and Recommendations, which endorsed the development of pilot projects in eviction and mortgage foreclosure defense and custody cases as well as the development of an education and communications plan to inform the legal and public community about the critical need to expand the right to counsel for low-income people faced with the threatened loss of these basic needs. This web site was developed in 2010 to further the mission of the Task Force to educate the legal and public community about the need for civil Gideon in these critical matters. Click here to read more information about the Task Force’s activities in 2012.
The legal community and public often ask, “What does ‘civil Gideon’ mean?” In the landmark United States Supreme Court case of Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963), the Supreme Court decided that indigent defendants have a constitutional right to be represented by an attorney, at no charge, in state criminal cases. The term “civil Gideon” refers to a growing national movement that has developed to explore strategies to provide legal counsel, as a matter of right and at public expense, to low-income persons in civil legal proceedings where basic human needs are at stake, such as those involving shelter and child custody.
The National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel (NCCRC) maintains a web site that provides additional information about the civil Gideon movement as well as articles, resources and other information about current litigation, legislation and related efforts and strategies nationwide to expand the right to civil counsel. The NCCRC was formed in 2003 to facilitate collaboration among advocates nationwide and provide training, research and other support to legal services programs, bar associations, law schools, private law firms, and others in their local efforts to establish a civil right to counsel.
There are a number of insightful studies and reports from across the nation that address the urgent need for legal representation for low-income individuals in cases where basic human needs are at stake and illustrate the economic and societal benefits and cost savings achieved by providing such legal services.
In addition to researching the specific need for civil Gideon in Philadelphia, conducting research and developing pilot projects to evaluate potential methods for providing legal representation in the housing and child custody areas, the Task Force will take these studies from across the nation into account in developing specific proposals for structuring and developing funding to implement civil Gideon.Click here to read these studies and reports.
Catherine C. Carr, Esquire
Immediate Past Executive Director of Community Legal Services
Joseph A. Sullivan, Esquire
Pepper Hamilton LLP
3000 Two Logan Square
Eighteenth and Arch Streets
Philadelphia, PA 19103