State supreme court justices talk civil right to counsel

09/15/2014, Court Rule or Initiative, All Basic Human Needs

In September 2014, the Legal Services Corporation celebrated its 40th Anniversary. One of the event's panels featured eight justices from state high courts around the country, and a number of them chose to touch on civil right to counsel as part of their remarks.

The highlights came from PA Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille, NY Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, and MS Supreme Court Presiding Justice Jess Dickinson, all of whom spoke favorably about the right to counsel in civil cases. Chief Judge Lippman in his final remarks suggested a civil right to counsel is the culmination of all of the different efforts to expand access to justice, while Chief Justice Castille suggested a right to counsel case is ripe for decision by the courts.


Watch the video at Some quotes:


  • Castille: "I go to the legislature and I try to tell them, 'These legal services, I mean, you're a government. You provide police services, you provide for courts, you build roads and bridges. And what is happening to some of these people, this civil gideon, as you all know, this is a program that should be funded by the government.'"
  • Lippman: "I think all of the things going on from the different access to justice commissions … things going in the judiciary, the legal services corporation, the law schools, are laying the seeds, I really think, for what comes next. And what comes next, to me, is the obvious, which is: whether you call it civil gideon, whether you call it a right to counsel, whether you call it the right to effective assistance of counsel for people fighting for the necessities of life...we've got to continue to change the dialogue, to talk about the thing, to get people to understand, so that they ask people on the street, 'Gee, do you think someone with a roof over their head is going to be foreclosed, do they have the right to counsel?', that everyone, 100%, will say, "Yeah, that's right, they do have a right to counsel."

  • Dickinson: "I think that we should be saying that when a person or a corporation or a business is able to use the power of the government to take the property or the liberty or to compromise the rights of another person, that the right to fair and equal access to the courts becomes a constitutional right."


You can also read about other judges weighing in on civil right to counsel.