California Government Code
(a) Legal counsel shall be appointed to represent low-income parties in civil matters involving critical issues affecting basic human needs in those specified courts selected by the Judicial Council as provided in this section.
(b) (1)Subject to funding specifically provided for this purpose pursuant to subdivision (e) of Section 70626, the Judicial Council shall develop one or more model pilot projects in selected courts pursuant to a competitive grant process and a request for proposals. Projects authorized under this section shall provide representation of counsel for low-income persons who require legal services in civil matters involving housing-related matters, domestic violence and civil
harassment restraining orders, probate conservatorships, guardianships of the person, elder abuse, or actions by a parent to obtain sole legal or physical custody of a child, as well as providing court procedures, personnel, training, and case management and administration methods that reflect best practices to ensure unrepresented parties in those cases have meaningful access to justice, and to gather information on the outcomes associated with providing these services, to guard against the involuntary waiver of those rights or their disposition by default. These pilot projects should be designed to address the substantial inequities in timely and effective access to justice that often give rise to an undue risk of erroneous decision because of the nature and complexity of the law and the proceeding or disparities between the parties in education, sophistication, language proficiency, legal representation, access to self-help, and alternative dispute resolution services. In order to ensure that the scarce
funds available for the program are used to serve the most critical cases and the parties least able to access the courts without representation, eligibility for representation shall be limited to clients whose household income falls at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Projects shall impose asset limitations consistent with their existing practices in order to ensure optimal use of funds.
(2) (A)In light of the significant percentage of parties who are unrepresented in family law matters, proposals to provide counsel in child custody cases should be considered among the highest priorities for funding, particularly when one side is represented and the other is not.
(B) Up to 20 percent of available funds shall be directed to projects regarding civil matters involving actions by a parent to obtain sole legal or physical custody of a child.
This subparagraph shall not apply to distributions made pursuant to paragraph (3).
(3) For the 2012–13 fiscal year, and each subsequent fiscal year, any amounts collected pursuant to subdivision (e) of Section 70626 in excess of the total amount transferred to the Trial Court Trust Fund in the 2011–12 fiscal year pursuant to subparagraph (E) of paragraph (1) of subdivision (c) of Section 68085.1 and subdivision (e) of Section 70626 shall be distributed by the Judicial Council without regard to subparagraph (B) of paragraph (2). Those amounts may be distributed by the Judicial Council as set forth in this subdivision. If the funds are to be distributed to new projects, the Judicial Council shall distribute those amounts pursuant to the process set forth in this subdivision.
(4) Each project shall be a partnership between the court, a qualified legal services project, as defined by
subdivision (a) of Section 6213 of the Business and Professions Code, that shall serve as the lead agency for case assessment and direction, and other legal services providers in the community who are able to provide the services for the project. The lead legal services agency shall be the central point of contact for receipt of referrals to the project and to make determinations of eligibility based on uniform criteria. The lead legal services agency shall be responsible for providing representation to the clients or referring the matter to one of the organization or individual providers with whom the lead legal services agency contracts to provide the service. Funds received by a qualified legal services project shall not qualify as expenditures for the purposes of the distribution of funds pursuant to Section 6216 of the Business and Professions Code. To the extent practical, the lead legal services agency shall identify and make use of pro bono services in order to maximize available services efficiently
and economically. Recognizing that not all indigent parties can be afforded representation, even when they have meritorious cases, the court partner shall, as a corollary to the services provided by the lead legal services agency, be responsible for providing procedures, personnel, training, and case management and administration practices that reflect best practices to ensure unrepresented parties meaningful access to justice and to guard against the involuntary waiver of rights, as well as to encourage fair and expeditious voluntary dispute resolution, consistent with principles of judicial neutrality.
(5) The participating projects shall be selected by a committee appointed by the Judicial Council with representation from key stakeholder groups, including judicial officers, legal services providers, and others, as appropriate. The committee shall assess the applicants’ capacity for success, innovation, and efficiency, including, but not
limited to, the likelihood that the project would deliver quality representation in an effective manner that would meet critical needs in the community and address the needs of the court with regard to access to justice and calendar management, and the unique local unmet needs for representation in the community. Projects approved pursuant to this section shall initially be authorized for a three-year period, commencing July 1, 2011, subject to renewal for a period to be determined by the Judicial Council, in consultation with the participating project in light of the project’s capacity and success. After the initial three-year period, the Judicial Council shall distribute any future funds available as the result of the termination or nonrenewal of a project pursuant to the process set forth in this subdivision. Projects shall be selected on the basis of whether in the cases proposed for service the persons to be assisted are likely to be opposed by a party who is represented by counsel. The Judicial Council
shall also consider the following factors in selecting the projects:
(A) The likelihood that representation in the proposed case type tends to affect whether a party prevails or otherwise obtains a significantly more favorable outcome in a matter in which they would otherwise frequently have judgment entered against them or suffer the deprivation of the basic human need at issue.
(B) The likelihood of reducing the risk of erroneous decision.
(C) The nature and severity of potential consequences for the unrepresented party regarding the basic human need at stake if representation is not provided.
(D) Whether the provision of legal services may eliminate or reduce the potential need for and cost of public social services regarding the basic human need at
stake for the client and others in the client’s household.
(E) The unmet need for legal services in the geographic area to be served.
(F) The availability and effectiveness of other types of court services, such as self-help.
(6) Each applicant shall do all of the following:
(A) Identify the nature of the partnership between the court, the lead legal services agency, and the other agencies or other providers that would work within the project.
(B) Describe the referral protocols to be used, the criteria that would be employed in case assessment, why those cases were selected, the manner to address conflicts without violating any attorney-client privilege when adverse parties are seeking
representation through the project, and the means for serving potential clients who need assistance with English.
(C) Describe how the project would be administered, including how the data collection requirements would be met without causing an undue burden on the courts, clients, or the providers, the particular objectives of the project, strategies to evaluate their success in meeting those objectives, and the means by which the project would serve the particular needs of the community, such as by providing representation to limited-English-speaking clients.
(7) To ensure the most effective use of the funding available, the lead legal services agency shall serve as a hub for all referrals, and the point at which decisions are made about which referrals will be served and by whom. Referrals shall emanate from the court, as well as from the other agencies providing services
through the program, and shall be directed to the lead legal services agency for review. That agency, or another agency or attorney in the event of conflict, shall collect the information necessary to assess whether the case should be served. In performing that case assessment, the agency shall determine the relative need for representation of the litigant, including all of the following:
(B) Whether the other party is represented.
(C) The adversarial nature of the proceeding.
(D) The availability and effectiveness of other types of services, such as self-help, in light of the potential client and the nature of the case.
(F) Disability access issues.
(H) The merits of the case.
(I) The nature and severity of potential consequences for the potential client if representation is not provided.
(J) Whether the provision of legal services may eliminate or reduce the need for, and cost of, public social services for the potential client and others in the potential client’s household.
(8) If both parties to a dispute are financially eligible for representation, each proposal shall ensure that representation for both sides is evaluated. In these and other cases in which conflict issues arise, the lead legal services agency shall have
referral protocols with other agencies and providers, such as a private attorney panel, to address those conflicts.
(9) Each pilot project shall be responsible for keeping records on the referrals accepted and those not accepted for representation, and the reasons for each, in a manner that does not violate privileged communications between the agency and the prospective client. Each pilot project shall be provided with standardized data collection tools, and required to track case information for each referral to allow the evaluation to measure the number of cases served, the level of service required, and the outcomes for the clients in each case. In addition to this information on the effect of the representation on the clients, data shall be collected regarding the outcomes for the trial courts.
(10) A local advisory committee shall be formed for each pilot project, to include
representatives of the bench and court administration, the lead legal services agency, and the other agencies or providers that are part of the local project team. The role of the advisory committee is to facilitate the administration of the local pilot project, and to ensure that the project is fulfilling its objectives. In addition, the committee shall resolve any issues that arise during the course of the pilot project, including issues concerning case eligibility, and recommend changes in project administration in response to implementation challenges. The committee shall meet at least monthly for the first six months of the project, and no less than quarterly for the duration of the pilot period. Each authorized pilot project shall catalog changes to the program made during the three-year period based on its experiences with best practices in serving the eligible population.
(c) The Judicial Council shall conduct a study to demonstrate the
effectiveness and continued need for the pilot program established pursuant to this section and shall report its findings and recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature on or before January 31, 2016. The study shall report on the percentage of funding by case type and shall include data on the impact of counsel on equal access to justice and the effect on court administration and efficiency, and enhanced coordination between courts and other government service providers and community resources. This report shall describe the benefits of providing representation to those who were previously not represented, both for the clients and the courts, as well as strategies and recommendations for maximizing the benefit of that representation in the future. The report shall describe and include data, if available, on the impact of the pilot program on families and children. The report also shall include an assessment of the continuing unmet needs and, if available, data regarding those unmet needs.
(d) This section shall not be construed to negate, alter, or limit any right to counsel in a criminal or civil action or proceeding otherwise provided by state or federal law.