Discretionary appointment of counsel

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Litigation, Issues Related to Incarcerated People

In Vick v. Dep't of Correction, an unpublished decision involving the confiscation of items from an inmate, the court stated that “prisoners have a constitutional right to ‘meaningful access’ to the courts, in civil as well as criminal matters,” which it defined as “access to an adequate law library or legal assistance in the preparation of complaints, appeals, petitions, etc.” 1986 WL 8003 at *1 (Del. Super. Ct. 1986) (unpublished).  The court added that “as a court of general jurisdiction and one that is empowered with supervisory power over the administration of prisons, the Superior Court possesses inherent authority to appoint counsel for an indigent prisoner in a civil suit if it is demonstrated that the State has not afforded ‘meaningful access’ to the courts by other alternatives.”  Vick, 1986 WL 8003, *2; see also Deputy v. Dr. Conlan, 2008 WL 495791 at *1 (Del. Super. Ct. 2008) (unpublished) (denial of necessary medical treatment claim; the court held that it had the “inherent authority to appoint counsel for an indigent prisoner in a civil suit.” [internal citation omitted]). 


However, appointment appears to be rare, and "meaningful access" may be found where the incarcerated person has access to a prison law library. Deputy, 2008 WL 495791 at *1.  Some characterize the elements considered by the Vick court to be similar to the Matthews v. Eldridge factors. See Jenkins v. Dover Police Comm’r, 2002 WL 663912, *2 (Del. Super. Ct. 2002) (unpublished) (characterizing Vick as a case that utilized the Mathews v. Eldridge elements, in that the court in Vick looked to the prisoner’s interest in meaningful access to the courts, the state’s countervailing interest in maintaining discipline, and the complexity of the issues).


Note: See Del. Sup. Ct. Rule 17(a) commentary and Rule 14(b)(vi)(4) & (g)(ii) for information about the precedential value of unpublished opinions in Delware.

Appointment of Counsel: discretionary Qualified: no