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[U]Governor Signs “Right To Counsel” Legislation[/B]

California Becomes Nation’s First State to Assure Lawyers in Civil Cases

October 12, 2009 (Sacramento) – Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed AB 590, Assembly member Mike Feuer’s landmark measure that will make California the first state in the nation to establish a model program providing a right to counsel for low-income people in critical civil cases.

“This law helps ensure essential legal rights are not sacrificed simply because someone cannot afford to hire a private lawyer,” said Feuer. “The current economic crisis and state budget cuts make this measure more critical than ever. Just as health services can decrease the need for expensive ER treatment, timely access to legal services can keep a family in their home or a child with her mother or father, which ultimately saves taxpayers money. This new statute will also make the justice system more efficient and economical."

AB 590 has been endorsed by the New York Times, which stated that the bill will “make the state’s justice system fairer and more efficient” ("Waiting in California," 10/4/09). The Los Angeles Times also editorialized in favor of the bill, arguing AB 590 “offers a smart, creative way to protect the rights of litigants and preserve the resources of the courts -- while making the best use of scarce tax dollars.” (“Pennywise Justice for California,” 9/25/09).

Chief Justice Ronald M. George said the signing of the legislation was welcome news for both the court system and unrepresented litigants in critical civil cases. “The growing number of unrepresented parties in lawsuits imposes significant costs on the courts and erodes the public's confidence in our system of justice,” he said. “This legislation provides an important step in improving access to justice for those most in need.”

Currently, attorneys are appointed for indigent parties only in criminal cases. Legal officials agree, however, that some issues decided in civil cases can be just as significant as in criminal cases, such as cases involving the elderly and individuals with disabilities, the well?being and safety of parents and children, and the basic need for adequate shelter. AB 590 would support the project without drawing on California's general fund: A previously-approved $10 increase on certain court fees when a party wins a case would be redirected to the program starting in 2011.

AB 590 reflects a growing national movement known as "civil Gideon" after the name of the Supreme Court case establishing the right to counsel in criminal cases. The concept is endorsed by judges, legal leaders and scholars, including the American Bar Association, the California Commission on Access to Justice, and the Conference of California Bar Associations. Members of California’s business community, including the California Chamber of Commerce, support the measure, which also provides resources to courts to test more efficient ways to handle the enormous number of currently unrepresented parties in the legal system.

AB 590 will go into effect as a pilot project from July 1, 2011 until July 1, 2017.

Assembly member Feuer’s website: http://www.assembly.ca.gov/a42
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The Equitable One
This is, without a doubt, a good step in the right direction. But counsel alone is not enough to assure good and proper proceedings in litigation, or adequate representation.

Competent counsel is very important. Most of us here know there seems to be very little of that.

I hope the attorneys that are utilized in this California program are actually competent in foreclosure law, lending, mortgages, etc.

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