The Turner Symposium: Coming Soon!

No one knows what the Supreme Court will do in Turner v. Rogers, but its decision will likely shape our understanding of access to justice going forward.  The issue before the Court is whether an indigent person has a constitutional right to counsel in a civil contempt proceeding that could lead to incarceration for willful failure to pay child support.  The Court has many options.  It could establish a categorical civil right to counsel, require judges to consider the need for counsel in every case, or determine that states providing counsel in these situations need not do so as a matter of federal law.  It could decide that trial judges have specific responsibilities to assist persons without counsel, with implications possibly extending to many classes of cases.  Perhaps it could even alter in some way our understanding of the right to counsel recognized in Gideon v. Wainwright.  In light of the possibilities and their implications, Concurring Opinions will sponsor The Turner Symposium, an on-line analysis by experts in the field interpreting the decision in real time — as soon as the opinion comes down.  Two experts in residence will moderate:  Richard Zorza, expert in self-represented litigation and blogger at Access to Justice, and David Udell, Director of the National Center for Access to Justice.  The list of participants is after the leap:

When the Supreme Court decides Turner, we hope you’ll join us for expert analysis of the decision and its consequences.

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2 Responses

  1. I’m looking forward to this, although I’ll admit to strong scepticism about the possibility of the Court recognizing a “categorical civil right to counsel.” Why? Well, the constitutional right to effective counsel* in criminal cases, “in practice…makes a mockery of formal guarantees” (Deborah Rhode). The current structure of indigent defense gives pride of place to ineffective representation. What Anthony Lewis said in Gideon’s Trumpet (1964) remains as true today as when it was first written:

    “It will be an enormous social task to bring to life the dream of GIDEON v. WAINWRIGHT [372 U.S. 335 (1963)]—the dream of a vast, diverse country in which every man charged with crime will be capably defended, no matter what his economic circumstance, and in which the lawyer representing him will do so proudly, without resentment at an unfair burden, sure of the support needed to make an adequate defense.”

    The current criminal justice system—especially for poor people—is, in Monroe Freedman’s pithy characterization, “unethical, unconstitutional, and intolerably cruel.”

    *Keeping in mind that even “grossly incompetent lawyering,” as Monroe Freedman notes, “is not enough to establish ineffective counsel”!

  2. This is a hugely important issue. According to my estimates, in the U.S. on any given day, roughly 50,000 persons are in jail or in prison for child support debt. I hope the experts will consider the decision not just from a narrow legal perspective, but also with respect to the overall purpose and consequences of child support enforcement.