Thursday, January 15, 2015

"The High Cost Civil Appeal Problem"

Paul Berger (a three-decade COA research attorney in the 1st and 3d Districts) presents The High Cost Civil Appeal Problem in today's DJ. He beings by pointing out that convicted felons get free appellate counsel at the state's expense, but that those whose lives may be "devastated or irretrievably altered by a flawed civil judgment (especially in family law cases)" are left "hanging out to dry." With the cost of an appeal "commonly running into the tends of thousands of dollars" ""many deserving civil litigants have the appellate courthouse doors slammed in their faces," while "an increasing tidal wave of civil appeals involving well-meaning but unlearned pro se litigants has overwhelmed the appellate courts." Based on his tenure as a research attorney, he says that "pro se civil appeals often [take] two to three times longer to work up" than appeals with competent counsel. He also says that many on the court of appeal simply take the "morally problematic" approach of "wash[ing] their hands" of the pro se "mess" by finding that poorly presented pro se appellate arguments are forfeited. So there's the problem...

As for solutions, he names Justice Zelon and Lisa Jaskol (familiar names in the SoCal) and Paul Fogel and Maria Rivera (familiar names in NoCal) as those at the forefront of creating problems to help appellate pro pers. But he reports that the NoCal program "collapsed, in part due to lack of support from other justices" in the 1st DCA. He praises the 2d DCA clinic as having "achieved some important successes and received high acclaim." But notes that the program is limited to indigents qualifying for a fee waiver, thus excluding "many deserving litigants who are not impecunious but just don't have at their disposal the tremendous sums currently required to secure private appellate counsel." Moreover, the 2d DCA program can offer only limited assistance, regarding procedural help, rather than actual substantive help (i.e., true legal advice that retained counsel would provide).

Paul's solution: "Let's create a guaranteed right to appointed counsel for civil appeals" using the criminal defense model as a template.