In a move that has the potential for major impact on self-represented litigants in the courtroom nationally, the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators have passed a Resolution recommending that states consider passing versions of the Model Code of Judicial Conduct explicitly referencing the appropriateness of taking steps to help ensure that the self-represented are heard. Here is the meat of the Resolution (which is also attached in full as a document here).
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators recommend that states consider adopting Rule 2.2 with the inclusion of the following emphasized wording:
(A) A judge shall uphold and apply the law, and shall perform all duties of judicial office fairly and impartially.
(B) A judge may make reasonable efforts, consistent with the law and court rules, to facilitate the ability of all litigants, including self-represented litigants, to be fairly heard; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators suggest states modify the comments to Rule 2.2 to reflect local rules and practices regarding specific actions judges can take to exercise their discretion in cases involving self-represented litigants.
It is great news that the Conferences are encouraging black letter support for judicial actions for access — a path all the more urgent after Turner.
The explicit encouragement of the development of state-specific Comments also provides major opportunities, not only to get those in place, but for states to engage in robust discussions about what judicial techniques are appropriate, and indeed, why. Groups may choose to develop options for the states to discuss and consider. Hopefully, this process will also encourage the development and use of additional judicial training — an additional opportunity for partnering between Commissions and courts. See the link to the Self-Represented Litigation Network Judicial Curriculum.
(Disclosure: I am coordinator of the Self-Represented Litigation Network, which provided information to the CCJ/COSCA during this process.)
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The enforcement of the Judicial Code of Conduct is more critical than adding language which ultimately is redundant. The use of “litigants” encompasses all litigants and should be non-discriminating. Segregating and/or classifying the self-represented (while well intended) could lead to more misunderstanding and discrimination. Respectfully –
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