The Illusory Right to Counsel: Challenging Systemic Ineffective Assistance of Counsel in Civil Commitments

Bill Brooks, J.D. Gina Teixeira, J.D., and Tom Behrendt, J.D.

Providing effective assistance of counsel in civil commitment cases requires attorneys to have training specific to mental health law. Panelists will discuss how Connecticut’s commitment laws, some of the worst in the nation, combine with systemic ineffective assistance of counsel, leading to unnecessary loss of liberty.

The discussion will include a review of how probate courts, those courts that decide civil commitment petitions in Connecticut, encourage attorneys to provide ineffective assistance of counsel. Panelists will review legal strategies, including class action litigation, that panelists expect to file shortly after the conference, that aim to challenge the fundamental injustice that exists in the current system.


  • Discussion of “right to counsel” and “right to effective assistance of counsel” in civil commitments;
  • Identify and define “effective assistance of counsel”;
  • Identify conflicts of interest contributing to ineffective assistance of counsel;
  • Review legal strategies including freedom of information, writ of habeas corpus, court observation, and class certification;
  • Review remedies that will require attorneys to provide effective assistance of counsel, which has potential nation-wide impact;
  • Discussion of how this systemic advocacy applies to legal representation in forced shock and medication proceedings;
  • Discussion of strategies to challenge widespread ineffective assistance of counsel.