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California’s Sargent Shriver Civil Counsel Act Tests Impact of More Assistance for Low-Income Litigants

By Clare Pastore

The nation’s most ambitious civil-right-to-counsel pilot project got under way in California in early 2012, pursuant to legislation passed in 2009. Approximately $10 million annually for six years supports representation, court innovation, improved self-help, and other services for low-income clients in cases involving housing, domestic violence and restraining orders, elder abuse, guardianship of the person, probate conservatorship, and child custody. Seven “lead legal services agencies” were awarded grants to operate ten pilots in seven counties; they must collect extensive data that will be used for a thorough evaluation of the pilot projects and will yield substantial evidence on the effectiveness of approaches to closing the justice gap.

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