spread the news: kvetchin’ & kvellin’

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An editorial over the weekend in the upstate New York based North Country Gazette reminded me that self-help-law advocates can advance our cause in two important ways :  1) get our message to the mass media (as news and opinion) and 2) make sure we’re both kvetchin’ and kvellin’ — complaining about what’s wrong and needs to be done in the current system, but also pointing (often with with pride and pleasure) at what has been accomplished and is already available to the public. 

 As we had on September 16, the North Country Gazette editorial focused on Ohio Chief Justice William Moyer’s remarks about working to reduce the number of pro se litigants coming before Ohio courts.  (“Eliminating the pro se litigant,” Sept. 23, 2006)  The Gazette seems to specialize in investigating and reporting on abuses in the NY and American government, especially the judiciary.   Its editorial wonders whether Moyer has “thrown out the Constitution” and is trying to “legislate from the bench . . . or his swimming pool.”

SoapBox  We certainly can understand The Gazette‘s suspicions about judges and lawyers, and can join in its suggestion that

“Instead of shutting the court doors to pro se litigants, Moyer should take steps to simplify court procedures, to remove the barriers and roadblocks for those who wish to proceed for pro se, particularly the costs, make the court system more ‘user-friendly’ instead of restrictive to those who can pay to play.”

But the editorial left me wondering whether The Gazette might not also live up to its tagline “serving New York” by turning its investigative talents toward showing what New York State has been doing lately to assist the pro se litigant. 

And that thought quickly reminded me that it’s about time that I also remind the public in my home state of what has been achieved and is being done to make self-representation an effective option in our courts — especially given ethicalEsq‘s complaints in 2004 about the failure of New York courts to use assisted self-help in achieving access to justice.  That task deserves a fuller treatment, but for now I will point out with pleasure that:

  • hat tipThe New York State CourtHelp website for pro se litigants has been improved and expanded, offering many forms and useful guidance in civil matters, in family, housing, small claims and surogate’s court, as well as a Glossary of common legal terms.
  • The NYS Office of Court Administration has established an Office for Judicial Initiatives, which is now headed by the Hon. Juanita Bing Newton.   In citing their ambitious goals in achieving access to justice — “courts that work for every one” — the first goal listed is “effective help for self-represented litigants.”  The extensive list of activities found on the self-represented litigants page suggests that significant resources, planning and experiments (at several self-help centers) are helping to achieve to this goal.   For example, a recent conference on Access and the Self-represented created and organized a wealth of information on many relevant topics — including the vital role of judges.

Advocates for the self-represented can’t just talk among ourselves or to the converted.  We must reach out to the public, especially through the mass media.   Complaining and lobbying about what needs to be done is still important, but letting the public in each state and locality know of resources that already exist must also play a vital part in our advocacy efforts.   We can help create more demand for self-help by voters and tax-payers.  Let’s work harder to reach the public with our message, kvetchin’ and kvellin’ in high-profile places.

1 Comment

  1. shlep: the Self-Help Law ExPress » Blog Archive » defamation self-help (for myself, too)

    October 27, 2006 @ 10:17 am

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    […]  Update & Correction (Oct. 27, 2006):  I have learned this morning that, a day after I was accused of defamation by the Editor of North Country Gazette, I made an erroneous statement about NCG in a Comment to a prior post: After comparing the text of the two articles, I mistakenly said that NCG had taken another newspaper’s story without attribution.  Here is the Correction notice that I have placed in the Comments to that post: CORRECTION (Oct. 27, 2006): Yesterday evening, I erroneously stated in this Comment that NCG had copied from this article in the Westchester News, when it wrote this story — showing that at least five sentences from the NCG article were identical to the sentences in the Westchester.com article.   It has been brought to my attention that the source of the NCG article was this release from the Westchester County District Attorney.  I apologize for my error.  Clearly, NCG did not take the information from Westchester.com.   If NCG had attributed its story and facts to the Westchester DA’s press release, my mistake would not have occurred.  My main point remains, however, that NCG was claiming exclusive rights to use materials that the public has every right to reproduce, when it placed the statement “This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed by anyone without the express written permission of the publisher. This article is copyright protected and Fair Use is not applicable” at the end of the article. I have never had an “axe to grind” with NCG.   In Oct. 30, 2005 and December 8, 2005, I had pointed to NCG articles as new sources at my other legal weblog and, on September 26, 2006, had discussed one of its editorials in a posting at this weblog.  When I approached the Editor of NCG last week, it was with one simple purpose: to ask that she remove the incorrect clause “Fair Use is not applicable” from NCG articles and commentary.  My purpose when I wrote about the topic at this weblog was to get the clause changed and to help the public better understand the Fair Use concept.  That is why I wrote to Ms. Maxam thanking her, as soon as I learned that the clause was removed in the Oct. 24, 2006 articles at her site (and why I was disappointed when she reverted back to useing it the next day.  I apologize to her for the one erroneous claim that I made, which is discussed above.  I apologize to shlep’s readers and Team for allowing the story to take up so much of this weblog’s resources this week and for allowing the situation to get muddied by making that one incorrect assertion.  Having said that, I hope the sources supplied below on defamation law will be helpful. […]

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