Sargent Shriver Civil Counsel

Program Overview

The Sargent Shriver Civil Counsel Act (Assem. Bill 590 [Feuer]; Stats. 2009 ch. 457) provides that projects be funded to provide legal representation to low-income parties on critical legal issues affecting basic human needs. The projects are operated by legal services nonprofit corporations working in collaboration with their local superior courts.

The purpose is to improve timely and effective access to justice in civil cases and thereby avoid undue risk of erroneous court decisions resulting from the nature and complexity of the law in the specific proceeding or the disparities between parties in legal representation, education, sophistication, language proficiency, and access to self-help or alternative dispute resolution services.

Selected legal services agencies provide pro bono attorney representation to low-income Californians who are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level and need representation in one or more of the following areas:
  • Housing-related matters;
  • Domestic violence and civil harassment restraining orders;
  • Elder abuse;
  • Guardianship of the person;
  • Probate conservatorship; or
  • Child custody actions by a parent seeking sole legal or physical custody of a child, particularly where the opposing side is represented.


Court Partners

Selected court partners implement improved court procedures, training, case management and administration methods, and best practices to ensure that unrepresented parties in the proposed case types have meaningful access to court, to guard against the involuntary waiver of rights or the disposition of cases by default, and to encourage fair and expeditious voluntary dispute resolution consistent with principles of judicial neutrality.

The statute provides that “the participating projects shall be selected by a committee appointed by the Judicial Council with representation from key stakeholder groups including judicial officers, legal services providers, and others, as appropriate. The committee shall assess the applicants’ capacity for success, innovation and efficiency, including, but not limited to, the likelihood that the project would deliver quality representation in an effective manner that would meet critical needs in the community and address the needs of the court with regard to access to justice and calendar management, and the unique local unmet needs for representation in the community.”

Reports and Studies

The Judicial Council conducted a study to demonstrate the effectiveness and continued need for the pilot program.  A preliminary report was submitted to the Governor and the Legislature on January 31, 2016; A final report was submitted August 2017 to the Legislature and Governor that showed improved outcomes for those who received legal services;  Here is a short summary of findings of the report  submitted to the Legislature.

Three chapters of the report are attached here: One reports on the housing projects, one on the child custody projects,  and the other on the probate guardianship and conservatorship project.   These chapters are contained in the full report.  

In June 2020, the Judicial Council submitted a follow-up program evaluation report to the Legislature.