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What Happens Without a Lawyer?

After 10 years as a stay-at-home mom, Brenda King and her husband separated. He retained counsel, filed for divorce, and although he had urged Brenda to be a full-time parent, sought custody, Unable to afford a lawyer, Brenda asked for help from legal aid, which was unable to represent her. Without any legal training, and with a 9th grade education, she struggled through a five-day trial. In the end the judge, who had declined Brenda’s request for appointed counsel, gave the husband primary custody of their three children. After being denied a new trial King appealed to Washington’s Supreme Court, asserting a civil right to counsel under the state constitution. The court ruled 7-to-2 against her claim. King can now see her children only every other weekend.

“A justice system in which people forfeit rights because they are unrepresented, rather than because the facts … or the law dictates their cases’ outcome, is unacceptable.”
— Prof. Russell Engler, New England School of Law
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