New York City Embraces Civil Gideon

New York City’s Right to Counsel bill, proposed by Councilmember Mark Levine (pictured), passed on Thursday. Photo Credit: MoneyBox online article, 7/21/17

The argument for Civil Gideon process took a major step forward last week when the New York City Council passed legislation in support of legal representation in eviction cases. Sponsored by Manhattan City Council Representative Matt Levine, the measure allows the city to appoint counsel for those facing eviction court.
Though Mayor Bill DeBlasio is expected to sign the bill, the process will not happen overnight. The plan is to phase the assistance in over a five year period. A recent article in Slate Magazine pointed out that in the 150,000 housing eviction cases in the city, tenants in eviction cases were victorious in 77% of cases when legal counsel was appointed.

Read the Slate story here:

D.C. Among Those Talking ‘Civil Gideon’ for Evictions

At some D.C. apartments, where tenants are overwhelmingly poor and recipients of housing vouchers, any violation of the lease — even walking your dog without a collar — becomes grounds for a suit for eviction. But far more common is suing over nonpayment of rent. Shown is Brookland Manor, a low-income housing complex that is undergoing redevelopment. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

A trio of Washington, D.C., council members are making the case for a limited “civil Gideon” provision for District residents facing evictions. In a Washington Post op/ed, the three Democrats admit that their city might one considered already “tenant friendly” but that the legal policy is needed.
“Many tenants are pressured by lawyers representing their landlords to settle their case in the hallways outside of the courtrooms,” they write. “If you don’t understand the legalese, it’s hard to know what’s happening to you and it’s almost impossible to know what your options are. All the while, you just want to avoid becoming homeless.
The offer these stats: Of the 33,000 eviction cases filed annually in the District, fewer than 10 percent of tenants have legal representation during an eviction hearing; more than 90 percent of landlords are represented.
For background, they note a national movement: “… this is a small part of a larger national trend called ‘civil Gideon,’ a nod to the case that established the right to counsel for criminal defendants and is now a growing movement to create a right to counsel in civil cases.
See the piece here: Opinion | Low-income tenants in D.C. may soon get legal help

Florida Newspaper Endorsed ‘Civil Gideon’

Scales of justice (

Citing research from the Florida Bar Association, The Orlando Sentinel newspaper has taken a strong stand on “Civil Gideon,” the idea that some civil cases demand the same right to an attorney as criminal cases.

In an editorial, the paper cites economic benefits from a study commissioned by The Florida Bar Foundation: “… the study concluded that every dollar spent on civil legal aid for lower-income Floridians yields more than $7 in benefits. As Bar Foundation President Matthew Brenner said, ‘Equal justice under law is not only a basic underpinning of our democracy; it’s also good economic policy.’

Adds the paper: In short, it’s a better deal for taxpayers to invest at the front end to help fellow Floridians solve problems in civil court, instead of paying more to deal with the consequences to the state’s economy of unsolved problems at the back end. This same logic would apply — and should appeal — to other potential legal aid contributors, including the business community and nonprofits. Here’s how the math works.”
The mainstream endorsement is a milestone for the Civil Gideon movement. Read it here:
Invest in access to civil justice: Where We Stand

A Good Place To Discover ‘Civil Gideon’

This isn’t a gap. It’s a chasm. Image Credit: illustration, 8/27/16

Say what you will about president-elect Donald J. Trump, his election seems to have sparked interest in the concept of a “civil Gideon,” which would provide representation to people in non-criminal cases like eviction and child custody cases – and also, perhaps more to the point given the recent presidential campaign – in some immigration/deportation cases.

Immigration cases, often seen as “criminal,” are actually civil cases and do not include the same protections as criminal cases. For example, immigration “courts” are not part of the judicial branch but are actually functions of the Justice Department and the judges do not have the same power over prosecutors.

Our recent civil Gideon coverage brought some feedback, including some requests for background and some suggested reading, so we’ll refer you to a good website included in the feedback. Information will include the idea that a shocking number of civil cases involve somebody representing themselves:

The National Center for State Courts has released data about how often one side, neither side, or both sides have a lawyer in civil cases. The data, which is based on a representative sampling of 152 courts in 10 counties across the country examined in 2012-2013 (totaling over 900,000 cases) appears in the NCSC’s Landscape of Civil Litigation of State Courts report. The report found that “At least one party was self-represented (usually the defendant) in more than three-quarters of the cases.” As The Lawyerist website astutely observed, “This isn’t a [justice] gap. It’s a chasm.”

Trump’s Election Boosting Efforts For ‘Civil Gideon’ Style Reform

Photo Credit: LA Times video clip 1/3/2017

One impact of the pending Trump administration is already being felt as some states and cities are preparing funds to fight deportation. While it’s only one part of the issue, the funding is a boost to the movement for a “civil Gideon” policy that would provide a right to an attorney in some civil cases – like the right to an attorney for criminal cases. The Gideon case was the policy-setting decision for that criminal-case right.

Immigration advocates have long argued that some deportation cases should be among those requiring representation, especially when children are involved. Funding has always been part of the discussion, but some governments are finding cash in the wake of President-Elect Trump’s victory. For example, the Los Angeles Times reports that  LA city and county leaders have “… unveiled a $10-million fund to provide legal assistance for residents facing deportation, the region’s boldest move yet as it prepares for an expected crackdown on illegal immigration by Donald Trump. If approved by lawmakers, Los Angeles’ two top government agencies could find themselves in the position of using public funds to challenge policies sought by the White House and Republican Congress.”

Similar efforts are under way in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and the state of New York.

Read more here: