Lawyers for the poor in civil, not just criminal court

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HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Everyone’s probably heard when a person is read their Miranda Rights, that you have the right to an attorney and if you cannot afford one, one will be provided to you. Well, that’s only in criminal cases when your liberty is at stake, but not civil cases. There’s a bill at the Capitol this year that would look into providing attorneys for civil cases.

It was last summer when a young Middletown mother pleaded her case in front of a judge for a restraining order against the man she shared a child with. The judge denied her request, and a within days, the baby was thrown over the Arrigoni Bridge, allegedly at the hands of the child’s father.

“There was no one there to articulate in a legal way, what this women’s horrible dilemma was,” said Bill Clendenen, president of the Connecticut Bar Association.

This is an extreme example of what could happen when a person finds themselves in civil court, but can’t afford a lawyer.

“If you have an advocate there, the advocate can talk to the mother, listen to what she says, then frame the arguments to fit within the law,” Clendenen said.

The Bar Association is backing a bill that if passed would create a task force. Their duty would be studying the feasibility of providing lawyers for the poor.

“Right now we have in some ways market failure,” said Sen. Martin Looney (D-New Haven), a main sponsor of the bill. “There are a lot of under of under-employed young attorneys who would like to get experience and also lots of people in need of representation.”

Other civil cases could involve eviction fights or custody battles. The Bar Association cites several studies that show providing lawyers for the poor, actually saves taxpayer money that is otherwise spent on the fallout of a lost case. If a person is evicted, the adults may end up in homeless shelters and their children may end up in foster care. All things that ultimately cost taxpayers.

“For every dollar invested, you save $3 in taxpayer money,” Clendenen said. “But that’s only part of it. Just think of the human suffering you avoid.”

“The bill in question passed out of the Judiciary Committee. The next stop is in front of the full Senate.

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