In an important decision, the West Virgina Supreme Court has affirmed that self-represented litigants have the same right of access to the courts as one with an attorney. The issue derives as follows:
In April of 2014, the Honorable Booker T. Stephens entered an “Administrative Order regarding vexatious, intimidating, harassing, and frivolous filings and court personnel security in pro se litigation in magistrate and circuit courts” which required all pro se litigants to obtain permission prior to the filing and docketing of their complaint in the Circuit Court of McDowell. In July of 2014, petitioner attempted to file a complaint against D. Adrian Hoosier II, and The Hoosier Law Firm, PLLC, alleging negligence and gross negligence related to its handling of Jimmie McClure’s case against USA Rental. Thereafter, Respondent Stephens did not approve petitioner’s complaint for filing and docketing in the circuit clerk’s office pursuant to his administrative order. It is from this procedure that petitioner now appeals. (Bold added.)
The Supreme Court ordered that the complaint be filed.
“[T]his Court has held that ‘[u]nder West Virginia Constitution art. III, § 17, the right of self-representation in civil proceedings is a fundamental right which cannot be arbitrarily or unreasonably denied.’ Syl. Pt. 1, Blair v. Maynard, 174 W.Va. 247, 324 S.E.2d 391 (1984).” Syl. Pt. 3, Mathena v. Haines, 219 W. Va. 417, 633 S.E.2d 771 (2006).'”
The Court also relied upon prior law that requires specific and individualized findings of fact and law before imposing any limitations upon prisoner actions. It did not help the judge that he failed to follow the specific requirements for adoption of local rules.
Obviously, while procedurally complex, this is a useful reaffirmation of what should be the obvious point that there is a right of self-representation.
A journalistic write up is here. Thanks to Will Hornsby for a heads-up on this.
P.S. Someone asked me if this was a frequent problem. My answer was that such explicit full barriers were rare, but that what occured much more frequently were bizarrely complex rules, understandable only by a lawyer, and court clerks who would only accept for filing pleasings in full compliance with those rules. Does anyone know of such situations? If so, feel free to e-mail me about them.