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Against Civil Gideon (and for Pro Se Court Reform)


Benjamin H. Barton


University of Tennessee College of Law

January 22, 2010

University of Tennessee Legal Studies Research Paper No. 93

Abstract:     
This Article argues that the pursuit of a civil Gideon (a civil guarantee of counsel to match Gideon v. Wainright’s guarantee of appointed criminal counsel) is an error logistically and jurisprudentially and advocates an alternate route for ameliorating the execrable state of pro se litigation for the poor in this country: pro se court reform.

Gideon itself has largely proven a disappointment. Between overworked and underfunded lawyers and a loose standard for ineffective assistance of counsel the system has been degraded. As each player becomes anesthetized to cutting corners a system designed as a square becomes a circle.

There is little in indigent criminal defense that makes one think that a guarantee of civil counsel will work very well. If Courts have not required funding for meaningful representation in the serious cases covered in Gideon (including felony and death penalty prosecutions), it is extremely unlikely that they would do so in civil cases like eviction or deportation.

Moreover, focusing our attention on pro se court reform is a much, much more promising and likely palliative to the legal problems of the poor. Lastly, and most importantly, civil Gideon is a deeply conservative and backward looking solution to this problem, while pro se court reform has the potential to do more than just help the poor. It has the potential to radically reshape our justice system in ways that assist everyone.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 67

Keywords: civil gideon, Gideon v. Wainright

JEL Classification: k40, k41

working papers series


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Date posted: January 25, 2010 ; Last revised: February 25, 2010

Suggested Citation

Barton, Benjamin H., Against Civil Gideon (and for Pro Se Court Reform) (January 22, 2010). University of Tennessee Legal Studies Research Paper No. 93. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1540763 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1540763

Contact Information

Benjamin H. Barton (Contact Author)
University of Tennessee College of Law ( email )
1505 West Cumberland Avenue
Knoxville, TN 37996
United States
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