Constitutional Law

Arguments Today in Civil Gideon Case

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The Washington Supreme Court will hear an appeal today that contends an indigent divorce litigant who lost custody of her children was entitled to a free attorney.

Brenda Leone King said she could not afford an attorney to represent her during the divorce trial in 2004. Her husband, Michael King, was represented by a lawyer and obtained custody of their three children.

Now Brenda King is represented on a pro bono basis by lawyers from Perkins Coie in Seattle, according to the Seattle Times. The Washington State Bar Association supports the right to a free lawyer in an amicus brief.

The Washington Attorney General’s Office contends there is no constitutional right to free counsel in such cases.

Washington state appoints free lawyers in civil cases in which the state is seeking to revoke parents’ custody of their children. However free attorneys are not appointed in civil disputes in which the state is not a party.

The U.S. Supreme Court held that criminal defendants are entitled to a free attorney in its landmark ruling Gideon v. Wainwright.

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