Right to counsel

Litigation, Civil Contempt in Family Court

In Lake v. Speziale, 580 F.Supp. 1318 (D. Conn. 1984), a federal district court held that where a defendant faces potential incarceration in a Connecticut civil contempt proceeding to enforce child support orders existing for the benefit of the state, the defendant must be notified of his or her right to counsel and, if the person is indigent, of his or her right to court appointed counsel.


Then, in Dube v. Lopes, 481 A.2d 1293, 1294 (Conn. Super. Ct. 1984) extended this Fourteenth Amendment right to counsel to contempt proceedings initiated by a private individual. The court reasoned that "[t]he result is the same and that is incarceration for failure to comply with a court order of support. Surely, the requisite state action which is necessary to trigger the due process clauses is present when a person is deprived of his physical liberty by the court." 


Finally, in Emerick v. Emerick, 613 A.2d 1351, 1353 (Conn. App. 1992), an appellate court cited to various federal appellate cases in addition to Lake v. Speziale to hold that "[t]he due process clause of the fourteenth amendment to the United States constitution guarantees the right to appointed counsel to any indigent civil contemnor who might be incarcerated," reasoning, "[t]his right to counsel is merely a logical extension of the right to counsel in criminal cases in which an accused is incarcerated." The court also held that the "trial court has an obligation to inform the potential contemnor of his right to appointed counsel to ensure that any waiver of the right to counsel is intelligent and competent."

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes