Do I have a right to an attorney in my civil case?

While the US Constitution gives all Americans the right to an attorney in most criminal cases (whether or not they can afford to hire one), it does not provide this right in all civil cases.  Each state has different laws about what kinds of civil cases come with a right to an attorney.  This article lists who has a right to an attorney in various kinds of cases in Maryland.

Accused Parents in Child Abuse/Neglect/Dependency cases

In Child in Need of Assistance proceedings, indigent parents have a right to counsel. Also, the court must appoint counsel for unrepresented parents if they are incompetent by reason of mental disability, regardless of indigency.  Read the Law: Md. Code Ann. Cts & Jud. Proc §§ 3-813(b)(1), Md. Code Ann, Crim. Pro. 16-204(b)(1)(v)

Children in Child Abuse/Neglect/Dependency cases

Children in CINA proceedings are entitled to appointed counsel.  Read the Law: Md. Code Ann. Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 3-813(a)

This includes the appeal. (In re Sophie S., 167 Md. App. 91, 94 , 891 A.2d 1125, 1126 n.3 (2006))

Individuals under Disability who do not have a guardian, and are being sued

Court rules require appointment of an attorney for an individual under disability who is sued and does not have a guardian.  Read the Rules: MD Rule 2-202 (Circuit Court), MD Rule 3-202 (District Court)

Subject of Petition for Civil Commitment

There is a statutory right to counsel in all civil commitment proceedings.  A public defender shall represent an indigent individual in "any other proceeding" where "confinement under a judicial commitment . . . in a public or private institution may result."   Read the Law: Md. Code Crim. Proc. § 16-204(b)(1)(iv)

In Johnson v. Solomon, 484 F. Supp. 278 (D. Md. 1979), a federal court, relying in part on Maryland's Juvenile Causes Act (Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc., § 3-813 (formerly § 3- 821)) and Maryland Rule 11-106 (formerly Rule 906) established the right to counsel for youth in juvenile mental health commitment hearings, as well as in mandatory six-month reviews for individuals confined to a mental hospital.

Defendant/Respondent in a Civil Contempt proceeding

There is a statutory to counsel for indigent defendants in civil contempt proceedings.

An indigent defendant shall be provided representation by the Public Defender in any “proceeding in which confinement under a judicial commitment of an individual in a public or private institution may result."  Read the Law: Md. Code Crim. Proc. § 16-204(b)(1)(iv)

The Maryland Rules provides some guidance on how waiver of the right to counsel should be handled.  Read the Rule: MD Rule 15-206(3)

Children in Custody Disputes (Up to the Court)

The court may appoint counsel for children in certain custody proceedings.  In a case with contested issues of child custody, visitation rights, or support, the court has discretion to appoint independent counsel for a child who is the subject of the case.  Read the Law: Md. Code. Fam. Law § 1-201

One of the Maryland rules provides parameters on what the court should consider in deciding whether to appoint counsel.  Read the Rule: MD Rule 9-205.1(b)

The Maryland Lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct govern what role the attorney should play for the child.  Read the Rule: MD Rule 9-205.1(c)(1)(A)

Proposed Adult Ward in Guardianship/Conservatorship proceedings

In a protective proceeding involving guardianship of the property, the court must appoint an attorney to represent the alleged disabled person, unless he or she already has counsel.  Read the Law: Md. Code Est. & Trusts § 13-211(b)

In a case regarding guardianship of the person, the court must appoint an attorney to represent the alleged disabled person.  Read the Law: Md. Code Est. & Trusts § 13-705(d)

In a guardianship case about providing emergency protective services, the alleged disabled person has the right to counsel "whether or not he is present at the hearing." In emergency guardianship cases, the court shall appoint counsel for an indigent alleged disabled person (whose attorney's fees the State shall pay), and for a person without capacity to waive counsel.  Read the Law: Md. Code Est. & Trust § 13-709(f)(1)(ii)

In a case regarding the appointment of a guardian for an alleged disabled person, the court must appoint an attorney to represent the alleged disabled person.  Read the Law: Md. Code Est. & Trusts § 13-705(d))

In a guardianship case about providing emergency protective services, the alleged disabled person has the right to counsel "whether or not he is present at the hearing." The statute goes on to say that in emergency guardianship cases, the court shall appoint counsel for an indigent alleged disabled person (whose attorney's fees the State shall pay), and for a person without capacity to waive counsel.  Read the Law: Md. Code Est. & Trust § 13-709(f)(1)(ii)

The person who is the subject of an adult guardianship matter also has the right to appointed counsel at the required six-month review hearing held during the pendency of the guardianship, and court-appointed counsel will be provided if he or she is not represented.   Read the Law: Md. Code Fam. Law § 14-404(c)(2)

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals has construed the guardianship statutes to find that the attorney should act as a client-directed attorney, and not as a guardian ad litem. (In re Lee, 132 Md. App. 696, 718-20, 754 A.2d 426, 438-40 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2000))

Either side in a Housing Discrimination case (Up to the Court)

A court may appoint counsel for either side in a housing discrimination case.  Read the Law: Md. Code State Gov't § 20-1035(d)

Quarantine/Sterilization/Innoculation

There is a statutory right to counsel in quarantine proceedings.  Read the Law: Md. Code Health-Gen § 18-906(c); Md. Code. Pub. Safety § 14-3A-05(f)(2)

CERTAIN Children in Termination of Parental Rights (Private) cases

Certain children have a right to counsel in certain types of adoption proceedings.  In a private agency guardianship and adoption, the prospective adoptee has a right to counsel where he or she is at least 10 years old and is either a minor or under a disability.   Read the Law: Md. Code Fam. Law § 5-3A-07(b)(1)

In an independent adoption, the prospective adoptee has a right to counsel where he or she is both under a disability and at least 10 years old.  Read the Law: Md. Code Fam. Law § 5-3B-06(b)(1)

Children in Termination of Parental Rights (State) cases

Children have a right to counsel in termination of parental rights proceedings brought by the state.  Read the Law: Md. Code Fam. Law § 5-307(b)

The court is required to appoint the child's original CINA attorney to continue representing the child, if that attorney has been provided under contract by the Department of Human Resources. If not, the court is to appoint new counsel.  Read the Law: Md. Code Fam. Law § 5-307(b)(2)

The attorney appointed to represent a child in a proceeding to terminate parental rights continues in the role of court-appointed counsel for the child until either adoption or long-term care short of adoption occurs.  (In re Adoption/Guardianship No. 3155, 103 Md. App. 300, 306, 653 A.2d 521, 523 (1995))

(IN CERTAIN CASES)  Birth Parents in Termination of Parental Rights (Private) cases

In adoption proceedings, there is a right to counsel for certain proceedings and a more limited right to counsel in others.

For an "adoption without prior termination of parental rights" (a process initiated by a private party that requires the cooperation of the Department and the consent of the birth parents), all indigent parents have a right to counsel.  Read the Law:  Md. Code Ann. Crim. Proc. § 16-204(b)(1)(vi)

For a child guardianship action brought by a private agency (which is brought prior to adoptions but which terminates parental rights) and for independent adoptions initiated by a private party, courts are required to appoint counsel for a parent, regardless of indigency, who has a disability making him or her "incapable of effectively participating in the case," or for a minor parent.    Read the Law: Md. Code Ann. Fam. Law § 5-3A-07(a)(1) (adoption without termination of parental rights), § 5-3B-06(a)(1) (independent adoption).

Parents in Termination of Parental Rights (State) cases

Indigent parents have a right to counsel in a non-consensual guardianship action brought by the state to terminate parental rights.  Read the Law: Md. Code Ann. Fam. Law § 5-323(b)

(IN CERTAIN CASES) During Emergency Periods

A court must appoint counsel in certain proceedings during emergency periods, and may in others.

In a proceeding regarding civil relief during emergency periods, if a party who is a person in emergency management service or person suffering injury or damage fails to appear or is not represented by an attorney, the court may appoint an attorney to represent that party. If the party is a defendant, on motion, the court must appoint an attorney.  Read the Law: Md. Code Pub. Safety § 14-208(b)(1)(i) and § 14-208(a)(3)

For more information about the right to a lawyer in civil court cases, visit the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel.

Source: 

National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel. Edited by John Pollock, Esq.

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