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PJC Presents at Two Civil Gideon Conferences

Equal Justice Conference: The fight for a civil right to counsel continued to gain support and momentum at this year's annual Equal Justice Conference, an event jointly sponsored by the ABA and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, held in late March, in Denver, Colorado. Debra Gardner, PJC's Legal Director and coordinator of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, participated in three events which centered on the civil right to counsel. A panel workshop for the main conference itself featured Debra, along with Justice Deborah Hankinson, formerly of the Texas Supreme Court and chair of the ABA's Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense (SCLAID), Marcia Palof of the Legal Aid Society of Columbus, Ohio, and Harvard poverty and clinical law professor Jean Charn, discussed strategies to broaden the discussion of a civil right to counsel, including spreading the word to judges, the private bar, law students, etc. There was also recognition of the need to reach out to other progressives outside the legal community, as well as to college students, and to capture the interest of the general public as well. Marcia Palof spoke eloquently of the evolution of the issue in Ohio, encouraging others to start the work in their states. She attended the first NLADA-sponsored workshop on Civil Gideon back in 2003 (in which Debra Gardner was a panelist) and went back to Ohio to start a work group on the issue, to be met initially with much skepticism. However, she persevered and there is now an active working group, an equal protection appeal pending to extend the right to counsel to private adoptions, and Marcia is recognized for her early visionary thinking. She credits the work of the NCCRC and the ABA Resolution for awakening and nurturing what is now a strong interest in and commitment to achieving a civil right to counsel in her state. This is exactly the kind of effort that the NCCRC and the PJC hope to support wherever there is fertile ground. Debra also participated in discussions in Denver with the Pro Bono Professionals and Access to Justice Directors (executive staff), introducing them to the civil right to counsel movement and exploring how they can engage in a strategic process of determining how best to raise or promote the issue in their states. She also had a similar discussion with a group of the Access to Justice Chairs (bar and bench leaders of access to justice commissions). University of Baltimore Law Review Civil Gideon Symposium On April 5, Debra Gardner and Steve Sachs joined University of Maryland law professor Steve Schwinn and Legal Action of Wisconsin's John Ebbott for UB's first-ever legal symposium. No doubt through the influence of PJC board member Leigh Goodmark, at least in part, the subject chosen for this event was Civil Gideon. Attendees were treated to a passionate key note from Mr. Sachs, followed by a panel discussion. A highlight of the panel was a dramatic reading of a transcript from John Ebbott's recent civil right to counsel case, a contested custody matter in which the unrepresented mother fought in vain to be heard before a judge who elevated procedural niceties the mother could not possibly navigate on her own over any meaningful exploration of the custody dispute. Symposium participants commented that the reading of real-life events helped bring home the importance and the urgency of the civil right to counsel. The Law Review may publish symposium papers later in the year.

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