Right to counsel

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Litigation, Child Support Enforcement (Civil Contempt)

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has held that individuals are entitled to appointed counsel in a remedial contempt proceeding "where the threat to liberty is real," and when the state is a party to the action. State v. Pultz, 556 N.W.2d 708, 715 (Wis. 1996) (indigent individual is entitled to appointed counsel "when an arm of government brings a motion for a remedial contempt hearing against an individual, and that person's liberty is threatened"). Pultz confirmed its pre-Lassiter holding from Ferris v. State, 249 N.W.2d 789, 791 (Wis. 1977) (finding right to counsel in contempt holding that in future, defendant had to be advised of right to counsel prior to contempt hearing), and rejected the state's contention that Lassiter had negated Ferris as well as the state's invitation to adopt a case-by-case test, noting that "an indigent defendant may not even 'have the keys' if he is not presently able to comply with the forfeiture requirement." The court did not state which constitution it was addressing, although it said the litigant was arguing that "under decisions of both the United States Supreme Court and this court, indigent civil litigants are entitled to the assistance of appointed counsel when they face the prospect of incarceration."   


Pultz is distinguishable from Turner v. Rogers, 131 S.Ct. 2507 (2011) (Fourteenth Amendment does not require right to counsel in civil contempt, at least where opponent is neither the state nor represented and matter is not "especially complex") because the decision was specifically premised on "an arm of government bring[ing] a motion for remedial contempt", a situation outside the scope of Turner.  Additionally, while the Pultz court did not state which constitution it was addressing, it said the litigant was arguing that "under decisions of both the United States Supreme Court and this court", which might mean the decision had a state constitutional grounding.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no