HLSBy Hon. John C. Cratsley (Ret.)

Among the various approaches to expanding legal services to the poor, the concept of “Civil Gideon” has achieved increasing visibility. The roots of the concept are in the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainright, 372 U.S.335, which guaranteed the Sixth Amendment right to counsel for criminal defendants facing the possibility of prison.

While many low income individuals face similar serious consequences in civil cases, such as child custody cases, evictions, and immigration hearings, the courts and the legislatures have been slow to expand the right to counsel in these areas.

Andrew Spore, a second year student in Judge Cratsley’s Judicial Process in Community Courts Clinic, chose to write his final paper in connection with the work of the Right to Counsel in Targeted Evictions Task Force, an advocacy committee drawn from many local organizations providing legal services to indigent and low income clients. Following several pilot programs in various housing court sessions, the Task Force felt the next step was to draft a statute providing for a right to counsel in three types of eviction cases identified during the pilot programs.

Andrew’s paper tackled just this challenge and after reviewing key policy determinations necessary for the content of such a statute, such as eligibility determinations, attorney delivery models, and sources of funding, he drafted “A Right to Counsel in Certain Eviction Cases; A Law of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

Andrew’s draft statute was recently reviewed at a meeting of the Task Force. It resulted in a memorandum outlining issues and next steps and beginning with the words, “We used Andrew Spore’s paper as a jumping off point for our discussion, …”

Jayne Tyrrell, IOLTA Director and one of the conveners of the Task Force, commented on Andrew’s work: “Thank you so much for the paper! You did a terrific job framing the issues for the group and your paper has allowed the group to move forward in our thinking in a way that would not have been possible without your work.”