Here are my prepared remarks for the June 14 panel at the ACS convention. My actual remarks differed from this somewhat, as I extemporized a bit and, by my watch, I didn’t get my full ten minutes before the moderator cut me off:
(Bumping from original post on May 14. If I thought I had competition from Judge Kozinski before, I can only imagine what it will be like now.)
I’ll be one of the token libertarians speaking at the Sixth Annual ACS National Convention on June 14, on a 11-12:30 breakout panel with Paul Bland, John Amaya, and Eleanor Acer on “Right to Counsel in Civil and Immigration Cases.” If I were you, and I’d paid good money to attend the convention, I’d go to the simultaneously-scheduled Alex Kozinski-Stephen Reinhardt debate about religious liberty or the panel on post-9/11 privacy rights with Orin Kerr and Jeffrey Rosen, but my panel should have some interesting discussion as well.
47-year-old archaeology professor Chris Ratte is perhaps not the most careful of parents; he says he didn’t realize when he bought a $7 “Mike’s Hard Lemonade” at a Tigers game, it was an alcoholic beverage (all of 10 proof), and let his 7-year-old son Leo drink the 12-ounce bottle. A vendor noticed the boy with the drink; the boy had no symptoms of inebriation but said he was nauseated; and stadium officials, in a prime example of defensive overreaction, summoned an ambulance, which found Leo fine with no trace of alcohol in his system.
Silly enough so far, no harm, no foul, but Michigan Child Protective Services intervened, held Leo in foster care for two days (refusing to release him to the custody of his aunts, who drove from New England on short notice for just such a possibility), and forced Ratte to move out of the house until a second hearing okayed his return. If Ratte and his wife weren’t upper-middle-class academics with access to the University of Michigan Law School clinic professors, it could have been much worse. “Don Duquette, a U-M law professor who directs the university’s Child Advocacy Law Clinic, represented Ratte and his wife. He notes sardonically that the most remarkable thing about the couple’s case may be the relative speed with which they were reunited with Leo.” (Brian Dickerson, Detroit Free Press, Apr. 28 (h/t B.C.)).
Some policy proposals are for taxpayers to fund attorneys to defend parents victimized by Child Protective Services; some go so far as to call it a constitutional right, albeit one having nothing to do with the underlying text of the Constitution. But that would only treat the symptom and ossify the underlying problem of abusive government intervention into the home.
Note that the proposal here is not to provide free lawyers in cases where careful case-screening establishes a fair argument that the eviction is in some way legally wrongful or unjustified. It’s to use taxpayer money to make sure that tenants who’ve trashed the apartment or stiffed the landlord on months of rent are also assigned a lawyer who will predictably use all the procedural leverage available to stall things out further, extract a payment as a condition for the tenant’s leaving, and so forth. NYU’s Brennan Center is pushing the scheme, which has 22 sponsors on the New York City council. (Manny Fernandez, “Free Legal Aid Sought for Elderly Tenants”, New York Times, Nov. 16). For more about “Civil Gideon” schemes, see this post (scroll) and this one (David Giacalone: “Attorney Employment Assurance Plan”).
P.S.: To clarify matters: for now, the program would apply to elderly tenants (which doesn’t mean all the occupants of the apartment will necessarily be elderly).
Your editor was recently quoted in Reason (Brandon Turner, “Citings: Snow Job”, Jan., not online), where he predicted (in an interview conducted this fall) that the U.S. Supreme Court would overturn the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Hernandez v. Hughes Missile Systems, the ADA right-to-return-after-drug-misconduct case. (How accurate was this prediction? See Dec. 13). I also contributed a quote this fall when the New York Times took a look at New Jersey’s office charged with cracking down on unethical attorneys, which it’s fair to say has its hands full (John Sullivan, “In New Jersey, Rogue Lawyers Are on the Rise”, New York Times, New Jersey edition, Oct. 19, not online). And the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, covering local attorney Elliot Rothenberg’s challenge to a rule requiring all Minnesota attorneys to enroll in “elimination of bias” classes, mentions this website and our description of the program as “compulsory chapel” (see Nov. 21) (“Attorney challenging state requirement of anti-bias classes for lawyers” Jan. 2).
Back in October, we were quoted by Legal Times’s Jonathan Groner in an interesting piece on a little-publicized crusade by “public interest” lawyers to extend the constitutional right to taxpayer-provided counsel, ushered in with Gideon v. Wainwright for persons facing criminal prosecution, to civil matters such as child custody fights (“On a Crusade for a ‘Civil Gideon'”, Legal Times, Oct. 20). The idea, quietly promoted by the Soros-backed Public Justice Center and by NYU Law’s Brennan Center, is far-reaching and actually quite scary in its implications. See George Liebmann, “‘Civil Gideon’: An idea whose time has passed”, Daily Record, Jul. 18, reprinted at Calvert Institute site. Advocates were hoping to convince the Maryland high court to embrace civil Gideon, in what would have been the first such ruling in the nation, but this month the court dodged the issue in ruling on the case, Frase v. Barnhart. (Ann W. Parks, “Top court sidesteps ‘Civil Gideon’ issue, strikes down custody conditions”, Daily Record, Dec. 12; Jonathan Groner, “Inadmissible — No ‘Civil Gideon’ — for Now”, Legal Times, Dec. 15).