Request for Applications to Operate Pilot Projects Under the Sargent Shriver Civil Counsel Act, Fiscal Years 2023-2026

1. Introduction

The Judicial Council of California, Center for Families, Children & the Courts, is charged with the implementation of the Sargent Shriver Civil Counsel Act (Assem. Bill 590 (Feuer); Stats. 2009, ch. 457) by funding pilot projects. The purpose of the Sargent Shriver Civil Counsel Act is to improve timely and effective access to justice in civil cases by funding one or more pilot projects that provide legal representation and improved court services to low-income parties on critical legal issues affecting basic human needs.

The program has had four grant cycles since 2011. In early 2012, the Judicial Council selected 10 pilot projects to receive grant funds. Nine projects were selected in 2014, and 10 were selected in 2017. For the 2020-2023 grant cycle, 12 projects were selected in 2020, and one additional project was selected in 2021. Under the terms of the legislation, the projects were authorized for three-year periods, subject to renewal for a period to be determined by the Judicial Council, in consultation with each participating project, considering the project’s capacity and success. The fifth three-year grant period will commence on October 1, 2023. An estimated $15 million will be recommended to fund pilot projects for each fiscal year of the 2023-2026 grant period.

In September 2022, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 2193 (Gabriel; Stats. 2022, ch. 486) that requires pilot projects to provide a plan for serving all potential clients regardless of immigration status. Government Code section 68651 (b) (5) (G) (ii) provides that “[W]hen renewing grants for existing programs whose lead legal services agency is prohibited from serving certain persons on account of their citizenship or immigration status, the Judicial Council shall encourage the programs to explore ways to expand access to legal services for those persons, including potential opportunities for the lead legal services agency to contract with organizations or individual partners that are not subject to the same prohibition and to include them as a member of the local advisory committee." Section (iii) further requires the Judicial Council to “give additional consideration to programs that propose to establish or assist in the development of program elements that would newly provide access to legal services regardless of immigration status in that region.”

2. Application Information

2.1 Eligibility

Each pilot project is a partnership among (1) the court; (2) a “qualified legal services project,” as defined by Business and Professions Code section 6213(a), that will serve as the lead legal services agency for case assessment and direction, and (3) other legal services providers in the community that are able to provide services for the project. The role of the partners is set out in Government Code section 68651(b)(4).

2.1.1 Legal Services Providers

Eligible applicants for this program are legal services providers, in partnership with California superior courts, who will provide legal 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
  • Child custody actions by a parent seeking legal or physical custody of a child

Eligible applicants may submit one application for projects that will provide legal services for any of the above-listed case types.

Considering the significant percentage of parties who are unrepresented in family law matters, proposals to provide counsel in child custody cases should be considered among the highest priorities for funding. Up to 20 percent of the total available funding will be allocated for pilot projects that provide representation in child custody cases. If the project will include child custody matters, applicants must submit a separate project budget for providing legal services in those cases. Housing, domestic violence and civil harassment restraining orders, elder abuse, guardianship, and probate conservatorship projects should be combined into one project budget.

The lead legal services agency will:

  • Receive all referrals to the project and determine eligibility based on uniform criteria.
  • Provide representation to the clients or make referrals.
  • Identify and make use of pro bono services from attorneys to maximize available services efficiently and economically.

2.1.2 Court Partners

Court partners will implement improved court procedures, training, case management and administration methods, and best practices to ensure that eligible low-income unrepresented parties in the proposed areas of law have meaningful access to justice. Improved court procedures should guard against the involuntary waiver or other loss of rights in the selected legal areas and the disposition of cases by default or without appropriate information and regard for potential claims and defenses. Procedures should also encourage fair and expeditious voluntary dispute resolution, consistent with principles of judicial neutrality, and consider that self-help services may be inadequate to meet all the needs of unrepresented parties because of their relative education, income, language proficiency, and skills to effectively advocate for themselves in light of the nature and complexity of the proceeding, particularly when the opposing party is represented by counsel.

Courts may want to consider collaborative court models, expanded self-help assistance, simplified procedures, opportunities for remote appearances, expanded settlement conferences, and other settlement services that could be funded as part of this partnership.

2.1.3 Advisory Committee

The statute requires that a local advisory committee be formed for each pilot project, to include representatives of the bench and court administration, the lead legal services agency, and the other agencies or legal service providers that are part of the project team. The role of the advisory committee is to facilitate the administration of the pilot project and to ensure that the project is fulfilling its objectives. In addition, the committee will resolve any issues that arise during the pilot project—including issues concerning case eligibility—and recommend changes in project administration in response to implementation challenges. The committee is to meet at least monthly for the first six months of the project, and no less than quarterly for the duration of the pilot period. Each authorized pilot project must catalog changes to the program made during the three-year period based on its experiences with best practices in serving the eligible population.

2.1.4 Participation in Evaluation

Applicants must participate in a legislatively mandated evaluation study. AB 330 requires the Judicial Council to submit an evaluation study to the Legislature every five years. The statute provides that the study include:

  • Percentage of funding by case type;
  • Impact of providing representation on equal access to justice and the effect on the clients and court administration and efficiency;
  • Impact of enhanced coordination between courts and other government service providers and community resources;
  • Impact of the pilot program on families and children;
  • Strategies and recommendations for maximizing the benefit of that representation in the future; and
  • Assessment of the continuing unmet needs and, if available, data regarding those unmet needs.

The initial evaluation report on the study was submitted to the Legislature in January 2016 (www.courts.ca.gov/documents/lr-SargentShriverCivilCounselAct.pdf). A more in-depth study was submitted in August 2017 (www.courts.ca.gov/documents/lr-2017-JC-Shriver-civil-right-to-counsel.pdf), and a five-year evaluation report was submitted in June 2020 (www.courts.ca.gov/documents/Shriver-Legislative-Report_June-30-2020.pdf).

2.2 Due Date and Submission Instructions

Completed applications including a Project Summary, Project Narrative, Budget Proposal, and Certificates and Attachments must be completed, below, and submitted by 2:00 p.m. on Friday, February 24, 2023. NO EXTENSIONS WILL BE GRANTED.

For assistance, please contact Laura Brown by email at laura.brown@jud.ca.gov or by phone at 916-643-8052.

2.3 Grant Timeline

The Judicial Council has developed the following list of key events related to this application. All dates are estimated and are subject to change at the discretion of the Judicial Council.

Grant application issued: January 6, 2023

Videoconference for interested bidders (will be recorded and posted): January 20, 2023, noon Pacific time (PT)

Deadline for questions to ShriverCommittee@jud.ca.gov: February 1, 2023

Questions, answers, and recording of webinar for interested bidders posted at www.courts.ca.gov/shrivercommittee.htm#panel43413: February 10, 2023

Applications due: February 24, 2023, no later than 2 p.m. PT

Evaluation of applications: February–March 2023

Judicial Council meeting to consider grant awards: July 20–21, 2023

Notice of award: July 21, 2023

Negotiations and execution of contracts: July 21–September 30, 2023

Contracts start date: October 1, 2023

Contracts end date, with option for two 1-year renewals: September 30, 2024

2.4 Grant Awards

The Judicial Council intends to award grant funding for pilot projects for a three-year period, October 1, 2023, through September 30, 2026. The Judicial Council will administer grant funds through separate contracts between the Council and the lead legal services provider, and between the Council and court partners, for each year of the grant period.

2.5 Use of Funds

Grant funds may not be used to supplant or replace already allocated funding for salaries of any current court staff.

Funds allocated to the program by this agreement must be used for the purposes established by the grant and must not be used for any other purpose.

The lead legal services agency will submit monthly invoices for reimbursement, and applicable cooperative court partners will submit quarterly invoices for reimbursement. The lead legal services agency and court partners will be provided with a yearly contract maximum for each year of the three-year grant period.

The other partner organizations (subcontractors) will submit invoices through the lead legal services agency.

2.6 Application Review

As set out in Government Code section 68651(b)(5), applications will be reviewed by an implementation committee appointed by the Chief Justice, who is chair of the Judicial Council. The implementation committee will make recommendations for grant awards to the Judicial Council.

The implementation committee will assess pilot projects based on the applicants’ capacity for success, innovation, and efficiency. This includes, but is not limited to, the likelihood that the project will effectively deliver quality representation that will meet critical needs in the community and address the needs of the court regarding access to justice and calendar management as well as the unique local unmet needs for representation in the community.

Projects will be selected based on whether, in the cases proposed for service, the persons to be assisted are likely to be opposed by a party who is represented by counsel.  The committee will also consider the following factors specified in Government Code section 68651(b)(5); in selecting the projects:

a) The likelihood that representation in the proposed case type tends to affect whether a party prevails or otherwise obtains a significantly more favorable outcome in a manner in which they would otherwise frequently have judgment entered against them or suffer the deprivation of the basic human need at issue.

b) The likelihood of reducing the risk of erroneous decision.

c) The nature and severity of potential consequences for the unrepresented party regarding the basic human need at stake if representation is not provided.

d) Whether the provision of legal services may eliminate or reduce the potential need for, and cost of, public social services regarding the basic human need at stake for the client and others in the client’s household.

e) The unmet need for legal services in the geographic area to be served.

f) The availability and effectiveness of other types of court services, such as self-help.

(g) (i) The program’s plan for providing service to all potential clients regardless of immigration status.

(ii) When renewing grants for existing programs whose lead legal services agency is prohibited from serving certain persons on account of their citizenship or immigration status, the Judicial Council shall encourage the programs to explore ways to expand access to legal services for those persons, including potential opportunities for the lead legal services agency to contract with organizations or individual providers that are not subject to the same prohibition and to include them as a member of the local advisory committee.

(iii) When selecting among new program proposals, the Judicial Council shall give additional consideration to programs that propose to establish or assist in the development of program elements that would newly provide access to legal services regardless of immigration status in that region.

The committee will further consider whether the legal services organizations and the courts have the capability to provide data for evaluation.

The Judicial Council may conduct interviews with, or request additional information from, proposers to clarify aspects described in their proposals. The implementation committee will make recommendations to the Judicial Council regarding which proposed pilot projects to fund.

The Budget Act of 2022, Assembly Bill 178, appropriated $40 million to be allocated to the Judicial Council to support firearm relinquishment efforts statewide. The Judicial Council of California, Center for Families, Children & the Courts, invites superior courts to apply for the AB 178 Firearm Relinquishment Grant. This funding is available to support court-based firearm relinquishment programs to ensure the consistent safe removal of firearms from individuals who become prohibited from owning or possessing firearms and ammunition pursuant to court order.