Right to counsel

Litigation, Civil Contempt in Family Court

In Cox v. Slama, 355 N.W.2d 401, 403 (Minn. 1984), the Minnesota Supreme Court held that the right to counsel applies to an indigent person facing a civil contempt charge for failure to make child support payments, provided the opponent is the state or represented by counsel. The court relied on its supervisory power rather than deciding the issue on constitutional grounds. It stated, "[p]ursuant to our supervisory powers to ensure the fair administration of justice, we hold that counsel must be appointed for indigent defendants facing civil contempt for failure to pay child support."


The court reiterated its reasoning in Hepfel v. Bashaw, 279 N.W.2d 342 (Minn. 1979) (finding right to counsel in paternity proceedings pursuant to court's inherent power) that given the adversarial nature of the proceedings, the right to counsel established the best method to protect the important interests at hand. Furthermore, it noted that "[an] indigent facing civil contempt has a greater need for a court-appointed attorney than a paternity defendant."  It also said that "the reasoning applies equally as well to those cases where the custodial parent has private counsel as to where the county attorney represents such parent."


Because the court relied on its supervisory power rather than due process (and because the court limited its holding to cases initiated by the state or an opponent represented by counsel), this case is unaffected by the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Turner v. Rogers.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes