3 Events Explore Legal Concept of ‘Civil Right to Counsel’

Programs to be held in Knoxville, Johnson City, Chattanooga this month

NASHVILLE, Nov. 11, 2013 – The Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) and Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) will hold a series of discussions this month to explore “civil right to counsel” – the idea that people who face certain civil cases and cannot afford representation should be provided with free legal counsel.

The concept builds on the U.S. Supreme Court decision Gideon v. Wainright, which found that criminal defendants cannot have a fair trial unless they have legal representation. For those who cannot afford a lawyer, the court directed that a free lawyer be appointed for them.

This year, the nation observes the 50th anniversary of the Gideon v. Wainright decision and many in the legal community believe it is long past time to provide a similar right to counsel for those who face certain civil cases and cannot afford legal representation. Cases often cited for this benefit include those that could result in eviction from the home, denial of child custody or endangerment of health and safety, and those that affect basic human needs or vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly and disabled.

There are challenges to providing increased civil representation, including cost, the volume of potential cases, the likely low reimbursement rates for attorneys and the potential drain on resources available for serving criminal defendants.

The following programs scheduled for this month will look at these and other critical issues:

Knoxville, Nov. 15
10 a.m. – noon
Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law
Room 201
601 W. Summit Hill Dr., Knoxville, TN 37902

Johnson City, Nov. 18
1 – 3 p.m.
Memorial Park Community Center
510 Bert St., Johnson City, TN 76012

Chattanooga, Nov. 22
Noon – 2 p.m.
Hunter Hall, Room 307
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
615 McCallie Ave., Chattanooga, TN 37403

Each event will include a brief taped presentation featuring TBA President Cindy Wyrick and Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade, both of Sevierville. A panel of attorneys with expertise in criminal defense, as well as legal aid staff, volunteers and others who support the right to counsel movement will be on hand to discuss topics such as:

•    The need for counsel in civil matters, including how civil and criminal cases overlap;
•    The types of cases that have the greatest need of civil representation;
•    Past and present efforts to secure a civil right to counsel;
•    Legal arguments in support of a civil right to counsel;
•    Challenges and counter-arguments to creating a civil right to counsel; and
•    Opportunities for lawyers and law students to support the civil right to counsel movement.

For lawyers in attendance, the sessions also will provide an overview of the pro bono programs offered by Legal Aid of East Tennessee, volunteer opportunities and free CLE for those who agree to handle a pro bono case after the event.

The programs are sponsored by the Tennessee Bar Association and its Access to Justice Committee in partnership with Legal Aid of East Tennessee, Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law, University of Tennessee College of Law, Memorial Park Community Center and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

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The Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) is the largest professional association in Tennessee with more than 13,000 members. Founded in 1881, the TBA provides opportunities for continuing legal education, professional development and public service. The TBA’s dedication to serving the state’s legal community is evidenced by its membership roll, which represents the entire spectrum of legal practice: plaintiff and defense lawyers, corporate counsel, judges, prosecutors, public defenders, government lawyers and legal services attorneys.