Right to counsel

Key_development Question_mark

Litigation, Child Support Enforcement (Civil Contempt)

In one case, the Tennessee Court of Appeals relied upon Lassiter to hold that indigent litigants could not be imprisoned pursuant to civil contempt without first being appointed counsel pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment. Bradford v. Bradford, 1986 WL 2874 at *4-5 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1986) (unpublished) (citing decisions from other jurisdictions that agreed with this holding). See also Poole v. City of Chattanooga, 2000 WL 310564 at *8 n.4 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2000) (unpublished) (agreeing with Bradford).

 

These rulings, however, would have to be reevaluated in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Turner v. Rogers, 131 S.Ct. 2507 (2011) (holding that the Fourteenth Amendment does not provide a categorical right to counsel in cases of civil contempt). In Bradford, a custodial parent was still the recipient of the support, but was represented by the District Attorney General. Bradford, 1986 WL 2874. However, the court did not rely on this fact at all; rather, it held that "in light of Lassiter, due process mandates that an indigent defendant has the right to be represented by counsel at a contempt proceeding whether it be called civil or criminal if the indigent defendant faces the loss of his freedom."  Id at *5. Given that Turner eliminated the alleged Lassiter presumption in favor of counsel when physical liberty is threatened, Bradford is questionable, at least for cases within the purview of Turner (i.e., cases where the plaintiff is neither represented nor the state, the matter is not especially complex, etc.)

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes