“About six months ago,” Judge Posner said, “I awoke from a slumber of 35 years.” He had suddenly realized, he said, that people without lawyers are mistreated by the legal system, and he wanted to do something about it. . . .
The immediate reason for his retirement was less abstract, he said. He had become concerned with the plight of litigants who represented themselves in civil cases, often filing handwritten appeals. Their grievances were real, he said, but the legal system was treating them impatiently, dismissing their cases over technical matters.
“These were almost always people of poor education and often of quite low level of intelligence,” he said. “I gradually began to realize that this wasn’t right, what we were doing.”
In the Seventh Circuit, Judge Posner said, staff lawyers rather than judges assessed appeals from such litigants, and the court generally rubber-stamped the lawyers’ recommendations.
Judge Posner offered to help. “I wanted to review all the staff attorney memos before they went to the panel of judges,” he said. “I’d sit down with the staff attorney, go over his memo. I’d make whatever editorial suggestions — or editorial commands — that I thought necessary. It would be good education for staff attorneys, and it would be very good” for the litigants without lawyers.
“I had the approval of the director of the staff attorney program,” Judge Posner said, “but the judges, my colleagues, all 11 of them, turned it down and refused to give me any significant role. I was very frustrated by that.”
His new book, he said, would have added to the tension. “If I were still on the court,” he said, “it would be particularly awkward because, implicitly or explicitly, I’m criticizing the other judges.” . . .
“The basic thing is that most judges regard these people as kind of trash not worth the time of a federal judge,” he said.
It is particularly appropriate that the Judge was thinking about internal changes to make sure that every case was given a real opportunity to be heard.
From such insights and courage come change and revolutions. Thank you Judge Posner.