“pro se pothole” awards?


SantaList   There are lots of folks making lists as the year comes to an end.  The American Tort Reform Foundation has just released its always-controversial annual list of Judicial Hellholes — naming jurisdictions that are purportedly “America’s worst jurisdictions in which to face a lawsuit,” because they are so plaintiff-friendly.  The Hellhole report has provoked the usual (and, often well-deserved) denunciations from strong detractors.  (via Legal Blog Watch

Pro Se Potholes  ExitSignArrow

That got us thinking, yesterday, while we composed our somewhat tardy Christmas Wish List   If we had deep-pocket financial backing, like ATRA‘s (from the insurance industry, the Chamber of Commerce, etc.), we could do a judiciary survey of our own.  The attitude of judges and court administrators is often crucial to whether pro se litigants, on either side of the aisle, can receive fair and effective justice.  (e.g., see here and there) If we had the resources, we would turn shlep‘s burning spotlight on Pro Se Potholes — on court systems in counties or states that put obstacles in the way of litigants appearing in court without counsel, or which have failed to promulgate or put into effect guidelines or adequate training for judges and court staff, regarding the treatment of pro se parties.

SchoolCrossingSign Being even-handed, a financially flush shlep might even create a list of jurisdictions that are just too darn nice to pro se litigants.  Other course, we’d call it our Self-Help Special Ed Awards, in honor of former Massachusetts Bar President Ed Ryan, who believes courts are giving far too much help to the self-represented.   We’re gonna backburner this idea for now, however.

Until Santa fills our e-Stockings with holiday cash, we’ll have to work on an ad hoc basis, keeping our eyes peeled for likely Pro Se Pothole candidates, and relying on our readers to make (well-documented) suggestions.

Judge Sloop gets Honorable Mention judgeAngry 

For example, thanks to a blurb in today’s HALT eJournal (Dec. 15, 2006), we learned about Judge John R. Sloop, of the County Court in Seminole County, Florida.  He surely belongs on a permanent Pro Se Pothole Honor Roll, despite having been removed from the bench by the Florida Supreme Court .  Inquiry Concerning Judge John R. Sloop (No. SC05-555, Dec. 7, 2006; 26 pp pdf., via SunEthics, Dec. 11, 2006)  After displaying a major anger management problem on several occasions (which he tried to justify by claiming an undiagnosed attention deficient hyperactivity disorder), Judge Sloop outdid himself on December 3, 2004, when, according to a Count against him:

[Y]ou issued arrest warrants for approximately 11 traffic defendants who had not answered your docket call, but who were in fact, properly in an adjoining courtroom pursuant to their summonses or the direction of the judicial deputy sheriffs or bailiffs. You were informed of the circumstances, but nevertheless proceeded to have the arrest warrants carried out, and these defendants arrested, and you initially declined to release them. As a result, these traffic defendants remained in jail until their release was considered by another judge. 

The defendants (who all apparently appeared without counsel) were handcuffed and chained by approximately 15 officers and transported to the jail where they were processed and strip searched.   Sloop admitted the facts and the Florida Supreme Court concluded — against the recommendation below — that he deserved to be removed from the bench.  We like what they had to say, including:

  • “Judges stand at the pinnacle of the justice system, and each judge in this State represents the face of justice. This is particularly the case in county court, a ‘people’s court’ where ordinary citizens come to resolve minor disputes and transgressions, often without counsel.”  And, 
  • “. . . . we explained that ‘[a] judgeship is a position of trust, not a fiefdom. Litigants and attorneys should not be made to feel that the disparity of power between themselves and the judge jeopardizes their right to justice.’ In re Graham, 620 So. 2d 1273, 1277 (Fla. 1993).”


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