Shriver Project Featured in ABA Article
The historic Sargent Shriver Civil Counsel Act, which established funding for seven projects in a statewide effort to provide representation to individuals and families in high-stakes civil cases, was featured this month in an ABA article.
NLSLA leads the largest of California’s Shriver Projects–a collaboration with Inner City Law Center, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and Public Counsel–providing representation to low income individuals and families facing eviction in some of Los Angeles’ poorest neighborhoods.
Although the guarantee of a right to counsel in criminal cases came in the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, the same right does not apply in civil cases.
Now, a growing movement is promoting a right to counsel in critical cases that involve housing, child custody and domestic violence. Women, children, families of color, the elderly and people who have disabilities are disproportionately affected by an inability to afford legal representation. Pro bono services can help bridge the gap, says John Pollock of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel.
In an effort to narrow the justice gap for low-income, unrepresented litigants in these types of civil cases, California superior courts have begun to collaborate with pro bono programs. Funded by the Sargent Shriver Civil Counsel Act, the California pilot began in 2011 and has served about 27,000 people facing home loss, child custody disputes, or a critical need for guardianship or conservatorship.
“Shriver was a real watershed moment, legislatively,” Pollock says, because it significantly expanded civil representation through government funding, rather than foundations.
According to a 2017 report to the Judicial Council of California, Shriver project attorneys help settle cases, which positively impacts all parties and frees up limited judicial resources. The pilot was so successful that in 2016, Gov. Jerry Brown made the Shriver project permanent.
Retired Justice Earl Johnson Jr. chairs the Shriver project’s implementation committee. Promoting a right to counsel in civil cases is the cause to be involved in, “a cause for our country,” he says. “The Pledge of Allegiance ends with ‘justice for all,’ but we don’t provide that.”