giving pro se a bad name


1] Alton Louis Vaughn, Sr., a/k/a “Bishop” Vaughn, of Springfield, Missouri, founded an organization a few years ago that he called Pro Se Help International.   According to the Kansas City Star/AP (Nov. 14, 2006), Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon has now charged Vaughn with four counts of “unlawful merchandising practices” fraud for posing as a lawyer and fraudulently accepting more than $38,000 from at least four people.  The KC InfoZine reports that the AG’s probable cause statement alleges the defendant “would repeatedly demand additional payments from his clients while claiming to represent them, fail to complete work on the cases and then neglect to refund payments made to him by those clients, the statement alleges.” InfoZine gives more details of the alleged actions (and failures to act) by Vaughn with regards to three of his “clients.”  (InfoZine staff, “Springfield Man Allegedly Misrepresented That He Could Practice Law,” Nov. 14, 2006) 

When we talk about helping litigants to appear pro se, and offering unbundled assistance to clients, we do not mean the conduct described above.  In case you’re wondering when shlep would be happy to see Unauthorized Practice of Law charges filed against an individual, these facts — if proven — certainly would qualify.


2]  We found a different kind of slur against pro se and self-help this evening, when backtracking on a referral to shlep from a Google search result — and, it was from a surprising source.   Someone entered the query represent self fool for lawyer and the 4th result went to the Using Self Help page of the Tenants Legal Center of San Diego, a “community Law office” that boasts of its record of community service, and its low fees.   I went to the webpage expecting a refutation of the “fool for a client” cliche, but instead found what amounts to scare tactics meant to keep tenants from using self-help at any time “when legal documents are served or when action is threatened or commenced.” The Center warns, for instance, that “almost all tenants who represent themselves lose the case or agree to a bad settlement.”  It also ends a lengthy section captioned What Else Is Wrong with Self-Help Materials? with the unsubtle counsel that:

“Self help methods of responding to or defending eviction cases have spelled doom for almost all tenants who have tried that system.  It is like drinking salt water when you are thirsty.  It may help for the moment, but things will only get worse.”   

There is much more of the same on TLC’s Using Self Help page. And, yes, these are the “good guys” who work in a “community clinic,” and not the big, bad bar associations we decried in a prior posting.  We hope the pro se practitioners out there in California will tell us whether things are as bad as the Tenants Legal Center of San Diego would have us believe.  Aren’t the Landlord/Tenant materials provided by the California Court Self-Help website adequate for the needs of most tenants facing eviction?  Isn’t the 120-page Tenant Rights Guide from the Department of Consumer Affairs a worthwhile resource?  Has TLC merely used hyperbole to sell its unbundled services?  Or have they gone too far to scare up business from clients who went to their website hoping to find objective advice about the self-help option?

p.s.  TLC has compiled a useful page of links to National and Global Tenants’ Rights materials, listing many statues and guides from across the country and the oceans.

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