Four years ago today an historic vote was held in the California Senate Judiciary Committee. The final vote tally was was 3-2, allowing Assembly Bill 590 to move forward in the legislative process. AB 590 included the Sargent Shriver Civil Counsel Act, which proposed to establish a pilot program for the appointment of legal representation for unrepresented low-income parties in civil matters involving basic human needs.
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"Legal and judicial leaders increasingly recognize the need to fix a system that is not only failing to meet the needs of so many court users, and the courts themselves, but also failing to honor basic constitutional and common law principles underlying the doctrine of equal justice under the law," according to a legislative analysis of the bill. "[AB 590] builds on a 2007 budget proposal advocated by Chief Justice Ronald George and backed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger."Current Chief Justice Tani Catil-Sakauye was nominated to the high court by Schwarzenegger on July 22, 2010. Assembly Bill 590 was part of a still expanding, nationwide movement known as "Civil Gideon." In the landmark 1963 United States Supreme Court case of Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court decided that indigent defendants have a constitutional right to be represented by an attorney, at no charge, in state criminal cases.
The term "Civil Gideon" refers to a growing national movement to provide legal counsel, as a matter of right and at public expense, to low-income persons in civil legal proceedings where basic human needs are at stake, such as those involving housing, and specific family court issues, such as child custody. Civil Gideon advocates cite startling statistics showing that people without lawyers who face off against attorneys in court often lose cases or rulings they should have won.