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In 2005-2006, the American Bar Association (“ABA”) created a Presidential Task Force on Access to Justice in Civil Cases to study whether a resolution should be introduced to support the provision of counsel as a matter of right to low-income persons in certain adversarial proceedings where basic human needs are at stake. In August 2006, the ABA House of Delegates adopted Resolution 112A, as follows:
RESOLVED: That the American Bar Association urges state, territorial and federal jurisdictions to provide counsel as a matter of right at public expense to low income persons in those categories of adversarial proceedings where basic human needs are at stake, such as those involving shelter, sustenance, safety, health or child custody, as determined by each jurisdiction.
In April 2006, the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Delivery of Legal Services Committee formed a working group to explore strategies to expand the right to counsel pursuant to the overall approach taken by the ABA. In May, 2006, the Board of Governors approved a resolution authorizing the Philadelphia Bar Association to serve as an official supporter of the ABA Task Force and Resolution 112A.
In 2009, Chancellor Sayde Ladov appointed the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Civil Gideon 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 Civil Gideon beginning with those areas of adversarial proceedings where basic human needs are at stake.
In April 2009, the Board of Governors unanimously adopted a Resolution calling for the Provision of Legal Counsel for Indigent Persons in Civil Matters Where Basic Human Needs Are at Stake. The Resolution called upon the Task Force to examine civil Gideon efforts underway in other states, develop strategies for developing civil Gideon in Philadelphia and to focus initially on making recommendations in two areas of basic need: cases involving the loss of shelter and child custody. In November 2009, the Board of Governors passed a resolution adopting the Task Force’s Preliminary Report, Findings and Recommendations, which recommended the endorsement of proposed pilot projects in eviction and mortgage foreclosure defense cases 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.
In 2010, the Task Force has established three working groups: housing, family law and education and communications. The Housing Working Group will move its focus toward monitoring and developing studies that establish the economic and societal benefits of providing representation in eviction and mortgage foreclosure defense cases, which may lead to increased funding for legal services by state legislatures. Philadelphia has been selected by NPC Research of Portland, Oregon, to serve as a research site for a national study that will be developed, if funded, on the effects of providing counsel for tenants in civil eviction cases. The Housing Working Group is also monitoring a study, conducted by The Reinvestment Fund, of the Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Program, a pilot project that was endorsed by the Task Force. This working group is also exploring the development of a pilot project to address the unmet housing needs of the elderly in Philadelphia. The Family Working Group is investigating the development of a pilot project for low-income individuals in custody cases involving domestic violence where the alleged perpetrator is represented by counsel and the domestic violence victim is unrepresented. The Education and Communications Working Group is developing a communications plan that will educate the legal and public community about the critical need to expand the right to counsel for low-income individuals faced with the threatened loss of basic human needs.