State Task Force on Civil Right to Counsel Begins Work

A special state task force has begun a one-year mission to evaluate the feasibility of providing a right to legal counsel for Marylanders who are involved in certain kinds of civil disputes.

Twelve members have now been appointed to the Task Force to Study Implementing a Civil Right to Counsel in Maryland. They will study whether low-income Marylanders should have the right to counsel at public expense in basic human needs civil cases, such as those involving shelter, sustenance, safety, health, or child custody.

Established by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Martin O’Malley last spring, the task force is approved to run until Sept. 30, 2014, when it will report its findings and recommendations.

Members of the task force, who are not paid for participating, were appointed by the Senate of Maryland, House of Delegates, and Maryland Judiciary, and by the Governor. Former State Senator and Anne Arundel County Executive Robert Neall is the chair. Staff is provided by the Judiciary’s Maryland Access to Justice Commission.

“The Judiciary continually strives to improve access to equitable and timely justice for all Marylanders,” said Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera. “This task force will explore whether a civil right to counsel is part of that access, and will thoroughly and impartially investigate both the concept and the practical implications. We look forward to the report.”

The task force will compare reported need versus current legal aid resources, and study how a right to civil counsel might be implemented and how it might be funded. The issues to be considered include whether low-income Marylanders should have the right to counsel in civil cases where the litigants’ basic human needs are at stake. The task force will also look at the current legal services delivery system, and evaluate the costs of expanding the right to counsel, and the benefits and cost-savings to the state that may result.

More information is available on the Maryland Access to Justice Commission website.

Governor O'Malley signs legislation creating a Task Force to Study Implementing a Civil Right to Counsel in Maryland, and a separate bill to extend the sunset on filing fee surcharges that will preserve key funding for civil legal services in Maryland Photo | Jay Baker

Governor O’Malley signs legislation creating a Task Force to Study Implementing a Civil Right to Counsel in Maryland, and a separate bill to extend the sunset on filing fee surcharges that will preserve key funding for civil legal services in Maryland
Photo | Jay Baker

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