Civil Gideon - Right to Counsel
Today, 18 Wisconsin citizens filed a petition with the Wisconsin Supreme Court which seeks to advance the right to counsel in civil cases – the so-called “Civil Gideon” – in Wisconsin’s courts. The petition asks the Supreme Court to set up a pilot project which would appoint lawyers at public expense for those persons who cannot afford lawyers – those below 200% of the federal poverty level.
The petition also asks the Supreme Court to issue a rule that would require trial courts to determine in each civil case whether an appointed lawyer is essential to providing a fundamentally fair hearing.
“It is high time that we take action to eliminate the fundamental unfairness that occurs every day in Wisconsin courts because poor people do not have lawyers, and can’t defend themselves,” said John Ebbott, one of the petition signers and the Executive Director of Legal Action of Wisconsin, a provider of civil legal services to the poor. “When people with no legal training are forced to go up against a seasoned lawyer without a lawyer of their own, the trial can’t possibly be fundamentally fair.”
This petition follows a similar petition filed three years ago which was denied by the Supreme Court. Since then, the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission was unsuccessful in getting its own pilot project on the appointment of counsel funded by the Wisconsin State Bar Association.
Speaking of the lack of success to date, Ebbott said, “We only fail when we quit.”
The Wisconsin Right to Counsel Task Force is an informal association of lawyers, judges and interested lay persons who are working to establish a right to civil legal counsel in Wisconsin courts.
The Task Force writes articles and makes presentations to various organizations promoting the right to counsel, and is obtaining signatures on a petition to the Wisconsin Supreme Court which requests a court rule that would require trial courts, in certain civil cases, to appoint counsel for self-represented litigants.
See wisgideon.com for more information or if you are interested in working with the Task Force.