The recently passed and signed Illinois Access to Justice Act has received attention mainly as the second civil Gideon pilot, but this is only one of the things the bill does that are worth paying attention to.
The Bill does indeed set up civil Gideon pilots in several counties. Beyond the funding provisions (not here quoted) the language is very general:
Section 10. Pilot programs.
(a) The General Assembly encourages the Supreme Court to
develop: (i) a pilot program to create a statewide military
personnel and veterans’ legal assistance hotline and
coordinated network of legal support resources; and (ii) a
pilot program to provide court-based legal assistance within a
circuit court in each appellate district of this State.
(b) The General Assembly recommends that the rules
developing the pilot programs:
(1) provide intake, screening, and varying levels of
legal assistance to ensure that the parties served by these
programs have meaningful access to justice;
(2) gather information on the outcomes associated with
providing the services described in paragraph (1) of this
(3) guard against the involuntary waiver of rights or
disposition by default.
This language could mean that all that happens is that legal aid gets more funding. But if the program is well thought through, it could provide some real piloting and research opportunities.
To be specific, while there is much talk about civil Gideon pilots, almost if not all of those going into place are actually representation expansion pilots, which is a very different thing altogether. None of them will tell us what will happen if we do create a right to counsel in certain situations, or what is the different in impact between allocating resources as a matter of right, or though a discretionary or triage system.
Would it not be great if some of the pilots in Illinois were true Gideon pilots, with a right to counsel defined for a class of cases, while others tested a triage system, and yet others one that gave discretionary appointment power to the judge. The differences would tell us a lot.
Secondly, the creation of a legal assistance hotline raises interesting possibilities. Does the use of the word assistance mean that this line will not be limited to information, and that the conversation will not be neutral, and may be kept confidential. If so, while raising some complex issues, it could be a real innovation for a court program.
The bill also includes explicit authorization of self-help centers in law libraries:
The facilities of those libraries shall be freely available
to all licensed Illinois attorneys, judges, other public officers of the county, and all members of the public, whenever the court house is open, and may include self-help centers and other legal assistance programs for the public as part of the services it provides on-site and online.
This obviously is a useful model for other states.
Finally, the statute expands the automatic fee waiver system beyond legal aid programs to court pro bono programs, provided the attorney determines and certifies indigency. This should help expand such programs.