Last Week to Nominate for Ellen Hines Smith Award

You have until November 15th to nominate a South Carolina Legal Services attorney for the Ellen Hines Smith Award.

This year the award event is especially exciting because it will take place during the South Carolina Bar Foundation’s Annual Gala on March 11, 2010.

I can’t wait to learn who receives the award!

-RFW

earlier post

220 years and counting . . .

Today in history . . .

September 25, 1789 – Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, known today as the Bill of Rights, were first proposed. It may be interesting to note that even back then, it took a little over two years (December 15, 1791) to ratify most of them.

If you are unsure how history holds relevance today, consider this sampling:

1st AmendmentFree Speech

2nd AmendmentSecurity of a Free State

5th AmendmentPleading the Fifth (against self-incrimination)

6th Amendment Gideon v. Wainwright (right to counsel)

10th AmendmentState sovereignty

Sometimes it helps to look back, just so we can look forward – with apologies to George Santayana

Thanks to our founding fathers for having the foresight to draft this important document.

-RFW

Happy Birthday Gideon v. Wainwright

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On March 18, 1963 the United States Supreme Court decided Gideon v. Wainwright. This landmark case held that the right of an indigent defendant in a criminal trial to have the assistance of counsel is a fundamental right essential to a fair trial, and petitioner’s trial and conviction without the assistance of counsel violated the Fourteenth Amendment.

From the opinion:

[A]ny person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him. This seems to us to be an obvious truth. . . . From the very beginning, our state and national constitutions and laws have laid great emphasis on procedural and substantive safeguards designed to assure fair trials before impartial tribunals in which every defendant stands equal before the law. This noble ideal cannot be realized if the poor man charged with crime has to face his accusers without a lawyer to assist him.

Although this case relates to the criminal court system, there are efforts for similar protections for individuals in the civil court system. These efforts are often referred to as Civil Gideon.

The American Bar Association adopted a resolution in 2006 for Civil Gideon in instances when “basic human needs are at stake, such as those involving shelter, sustenance, safety, health or child custody, as determined by each jurisdiction.”

Isn’t that a lovely birthday wish?

Happy Birthday Gideon v. Wainwright!

-RFW

ABA Litigation Chair Organizing Access to Justice Symposium in Atlanta

On September 11, 2008, the Daily Report noted that Robert L. Rothman, the new ABA Litigation Chair is looking to expand counsel for people living in poverty and whose basic needs are at stake.The main project he’s taken on is providing publicly funded lawyers to those who can’t afford one in these proceedings.

According to the Daily Report, ROTHMAN said a 2006 ABA resolution that advocated expanding counsel to indigent defendants in critical civil matters was what spurred him to make that the signature effort of his term. “I want to bring the litigation section into a very important discussion that is going on,” said ROTHMAN. “I think there is a critical mass and momentum building on this subject among lawyers, judges, public officials and academics.”

Thus far, this resolution has not been adopted in South Carolina.

ROTHMAN has organized a symposium on the right to counsel in civil cases that will take place in Atlanta on Dec. 4 and 5, sponsored by the ABA’s litigation section. The section has also funded a two-year fellowship for a person to work with the National Coalition for a Right to Civil Counsel on state legislative efforts.

Stay tuned for updates.

-RFW

Boston Bar Association Press Release

On Tuesday, the Boston Bar Association announced plans to expand right to counsel in civil cases. This is in response to a study by the BBA’s Task Force on Civil Right to Counsel.

“Studies of courts and administrative agencies consistently show that indigent litigants without counsel routinely forfeit basic rights, not due to the facts of their case or the governing law, but due to absence of counsel. That violates even the most primitive concepts of fairness and decency,” said Task Force co-chair Mary K. Ryan, a partner at Nutter, McClennen & Fish.

To view the press release, visit http://www.bostonbar.org/prs/nr_0809/ExpRight2Councel090208.htm.

For a brief history of Right to Counsel, visit http://www.nlada.org/About/About_HistoryDefender.

-RFW