A court hearing is usually a short and narrowly defined proceeding in which you are not entitled to a jury. A judge conducts the hearing and makes a ruling. Depending on the kind of dispute you’re facing, you may find yourself in a hearing rather than a trial. For example, you’ll probably have a hearing if you are seeking an increase or a decrease in spousal or child support following your divorce or if you need to prove how much money you are entitled to after a defendant has failed to respond to your claims. This book’s advice is as pertinent to hearings as it is to trials. Many of the courtroom procedures and rules of evidence are exactly the same in a hearing as in a trial. And you still must offer evidence in a way that persuades the judge or hearing officer to rule in your favor.
Remember this phrase: Litigation Privilege. The phrase has a formal meaning, but in layman’s language it means that lawyers can do just about anything, especially to a self-represented litigant, to protect their clients. They can lie, steal, cheat–and kill if they could get away with it–to win. Lawyers don’t always need tricks to defeat pro se litigants, but they try them anyway. They can scare defendants into paying more than they owe or settling for far less than they deserve. They’ll use a request for admissions to make pro se litigants “admit” to undeserved liability by not answering. Some will even attempt to keep away your court reporter by lying to you or to your court reporting agency. So keep your eyes open when you’ve cornered a lawyer. Chances are, there’s a trick coming, and when it does, don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Stay focused on your case. Reacting in anger by moving for sanctions, writing letters to the judge, reporting lawyer behavior in a hearing, or moving to disqualify a lawyer makes thinking and strategizing difficult. That’s not to say certain issues shouldn’t be addressed. If you must take an issue head-on, like moving for sanctions, do it strategically so you’ll get the most out of it. Otherwise, only address lawyer antics and judicial bias when it hurts your case, not when it hurts your feelings.
63. As an example, pro se reforms could be counterproductive in a streamlined pro se office at a district court that consistently suggests dismissing pro se cases before a full hearing. For a more detailed discussion of entities that have called for civil Gideon rather than pro se trial court reform, and the contexts in which they have done so, see Greiner, Pattanayak, and Hennessy, 126 Harv L Rev at 906–07 (cited in note 47).
Many lawyers routinely ask clients to pay a “retainer”—a deposit or advance fee—that is kept in a trust account and used as services are provided. Your legal coach may ask for a retainer in order to see that you are serious and have the money to pay. However, you shouldn’t be expected to come up with a large amount of money, because you do not plan on running up high legal bills. A fee of more than $500 is excessive, especially before you know whether the legal coach relationship is really working out.
6. If you have a paragraph 18 and 19, then you might want to add a paragraph 20 that might read something like this, "Other commercial facilities similar to the defendant's have made similar modifications, like what we ask here. Defendant could easily make his business accessible but has chosen not to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act." You might also want to add a 20a that reads, "to assist businesses with complying with the ADA, Congress has enacted a tax credit for small businesses, and a tax deduction available to all businesses."
Many states have amended their court procedures to make litigation less of a challenge for self-represented parties. For example, the New York State Courts’ “eTrack System” allows civil litigants to file court papers electronically, sign up for free reminders about court appearances, and receive e-mail notifications whenever a court updates their case file. New York has also established a website that contains information about legal procedures, a glossary and court forms. Visit www.nycourthelp.gov.
Alabama Alaska Arizona Arkansas California Colorado Connecticut Delaware Florida Georgia Hawaii Idaho Illinois Indiana Iowa Kansas Kentucky Louisiana Maine Maryland Massachusetts Michigan Minnesota Mississippi Missouri Montana Nebraska Nevada New Hampshire New Jersey New Mexico New York North Carolina North Dakota Ohio Oklahoma Oregon Pennsylvania Rhode Island South Carolina South Dakota Tennessee Texas Utah Vermont Virginia Washington West Virginia Wisconsin Wyoming
Some courts issue orders against self representation in civil cases. A court enjoined a former attorney from suing the new lover of her former attorney.[29] The Superior Court of Bergen New Jersey also issued an order against pro se litigation based on a number of lawsuits that were dismissed and a failure to provide income tax returns in case sanctions might issue.[30] The Superior Court of New Jersey issued an order prohibiting a litigant from filing new lawsuits.[31] The Third Circuit however ruled that a restriction on pro se litigation went too far and that it could not be enforced if a litigant certified that he has new claims that were never before disposed of on the merits.[32] The 10th Circuit ruled that before imposing filing restrictions, a district court must set forth examples of abusive filings and that if the district court did not do so, the filing restrictions must be vacated.[33] The District of Columbia Court of Appeals wrote that "private individuals have 'a constitutional right of access to the courts',[34] that is, the 'right to sue and defend in the courts'."[35]
This is a nonprofit organization which provides low income people with representation in civil matters which constitute emergencies, such as loss of income, shelter, and medical care. In addition, this office has PA Legal Aid Network pamphlets which contain information on many legal situations such as divorce, custody, child support and foreclosure.

Lawyers and their bar associations who do get a glimmer of the access problem tend to think that it's strictly a money issue. They focus their efforts on pro bono services or what legal services programs still exist. This clearly confuses the forest for the trees. Poor and rich alike have a right to use the courts without an intermediary. Or to use a popular means of expressing a fundamental point: It's the monopoly, stupid. It probably is no coincidence that by directing their efforts towards the poor, lawyers are addressing the access problem only for people who can't afford to pay lawyers.
The center’s approach, known as “limited-scope legal assistance,” can fill an important void. Most federal courts devote substantial resources to pro se litigants, such as handbooks and staff time answering process questions, and pro se staff attorneys help judges process cases. But court staff may not give legal advice to litigants, and although private lawyers offer some volunteer assistance, they cannot meet demand.
5. See generally, for example, Committee on Federal Courts of the New York State Bar Association, Pro Se Litigation in the Second Circuit, 62 St John’s L Rev 571 (1988) (suggesting solutions to combat an exploding pro se docket); Benjamin H. Barton and Stephanos Bibas, Triaging Appointed-Counsel Funding and Pro Se Access to Justice, 160 U Pa L Rev 967 (2012) (arguing that there are more cost-efficient approaches to improving pro se litigation than a constitutional right to counsel in civil cases because of the considerable resources that it would require).
Shauna Strickland. Virginia Self-Represented Litigant Study: Summary of SRL-Related Management Reports for General District Court, Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court, and Circuit Court. (December 2017). This report describes case management reports that OES should consider producing on a regular schedule in an effort to better understand cases with self-represented litigants.

I truly do appreciate the work you do and the information you provide as this is a great service to "all" citizens. Certainly more "legal information" is needed to increase "legal literacy" in the world today. I am amazed that you are able to respond so quickly given your "one man" operation. The "legacy" you are leaving by promoting "legal education" is important to this generation as well as future generations and I commend you for your efforts to impart of your knowledge. ... Leonard S.


63. As an example, pro se reforms could be counterproductive in a streamlined pro se office at a district court that consistently suggests dismissing pro se cases before a full hearing. For a more detailed discussion of entities that have called for civil Gideon rather than pro se trial court reform, and the contexts in which they have done so, see Greiner, Pattanayak, and Hennessy, 126 Harv L Rev at 906–07 (cited in note 47).
  If you cannot attend a scheduled court  date (because of hospitalization or illness,  etc.), you may file a motion to postpone the  case. The Pro Se Staff will help you with the  preparation of the  motion and notice. In  addition, telephone your opponent to explain that  you need a continuance. If you and your opponent agree on another date, the Judge will try to  accommodate you. In any event, you or someone for  you should appear in court on the scheduled court date. The Judge will then grant or deny the  continuance.
Of course a pro se litigant can prevail. The Judges, particularly in the family part, routinely have pro se litigants appear before them. The Judge does not determine matters based upon who has an attorney and who does not. The Judge determines matters based upon the facts and proofs presented. Some pro se litigants can be very effective and others are not. If you are not comfortable or need guidance as to what should/should not be included/presented, you would be wise to consult with an attorney with expertise in that area of law.
Any reform must simultaneously balance a number of key policy goals: it should ensure the ability of pro se litigants to receive fair trials without unfairly disadvantaging their adversaries, allocate sufficient resources to ensure quick and fair hearings while avoiding overdrawing on judicial and legal resources that might instead be put to more urgent needs,7 and be practicable within the Supreme Court’s current jurisprudence and the statutory authority granted to courts by Congress.
A court hearing is usually a short and narrowly defined proceeding in which you are not entitled to a jury. A judge conducts the hearing and makes a ruling. Depending on the kind of dispute you’re facing, you may find yourself in a hearing rather than a trial. For example, you’ll probably have a hearing if you are seeking an increase or a decrease in spousal or child support following your divorce or if you need to prove how much money you are entitled to after a defendant has failed to respond to your claims. This book’s advice is as pertinent to hearings as it is to trials. Many of the courtroom procedures and rules of evidence are exactly the same in a hearing as in a trial. And you still must offer evidence in a way that persuades the judge or hearing officer to rule in your favor.
Establish Jurisdiction.  To file a lawsuit in a particular court, you must first establish personal jurisdiction. This means that the particular state in which you are filing has authority over the defendants. Personal jurisdiction for a slander claim is typically appropriate wherever the effect of the slanderous statement is felt. In recent U.S. decisions, "targeting" of the forum is also required in order to bring a defendant into court in a certain jurisdiction. This means that the defendant intentionally aimed the defamatory statement at an audience in a certain state.

As Tables 2.2 and 2.3 demonstrate, the presence of a pro se plaintiff or pro se defendant dramatically changes the dynamics of litigation. When both parties are represented and there is a recorded final judgment for either the plaintiff or the defendant, the plaintiff and the defendant each win roughly 50 percent of the time. When the plaintiff proceeds pro se, the plaintiff instead wins about 4 percent of the time. When the defendant proceeds pro se, the plaintiff wins 86 percent of the time. These differences are stark. A represented defendant will nearly always prevail over a pro se plaintiff in court. A represented plaintiff will win almost as consistently against a pro se defendant.


An attorney who represents himself or herself in a matter is still considered a pro se litigant. Self-representation by attorneys has frequently been the subject of criticism, disapproval, or satire, with the most famous pronouncement on the issue being British poet Samuel Johnson's[citation needed] aphorism that "the attorney who represents himself in court has a fool for a client."
5. See generally, for example, Committee on Federal Courts of the New York State Bar Association, Pro Se Litigation in the Second Circuit, 62 St John’s L Rev 571 (1988) (suggesting solutions to combat an exploding pro se docket); Benjamin H. Barton and Stephanos Bibas, Triaging Appointed-Counsel Funding and Pro Se Access to Justice, 160 U Pa L Rev 967 (2012) (arguing that there are more cost-efficient approaches to improving pro se litigation than a constitutional right to counsel in civil cases because of the considerable resources that it would require).
Gideon, the movement has generally focused on providing counsel for indigent parties in proceedings involving threats to their basic needs.47 From the movement’s inception, commentators have been divided over the merits of civil Gideon. Advocates have put forth a number of arguments in favor of civil Gideon. They have argued that representation in civil litigation secures constitutional rights to due process and equal protection of law, is necessary to ensure fair trials, is “sound social policy,” and helps ensure more consistent outcomes for defendants.48 Critics have countered with both direct refutations and alternative suggestions. They have argued that Gideon wasn’t that effective in aiding criminal defendants, so civil Gideon would not be either; civil Gideon would be ineffective notwithstanding the effectiveness of Gideon; civil
This Comment furthers the legal community’s understanding of issues in pro se litigation by conducting an empirical analysis of pro se reforms in federal district courts. By comparing case outcomes for pro se litigants in district courts that have implemented these types of reforms with the outcomes of similarly situated pro se litigants in courts that have not implemented any reforms, this Comment provides an initial assessment of the impact of those reforms. The analysis reveals that thus far, a wide range of reforms undertaken by federal district courts have not significantly impacted case outcomes for pro se litigants. This analysis conflicts with the intuitions of the Supreme Court, commentators, and judges and clerks of district court offices, who have indicated their belief that these reforms are effective.
When pro se litigants feel they are being shut out from the process or that their voices are being stifled, these challenges—and the accompanying risks—are amplified. In fact, studies show that notions of fairness heavily influence and guide pro se litigants. Id. at 4. Indeed, “research has repeatedly established that when litigants perceive that a decision-making process is fair, they are more likely to be satisfied with the outcome.” Self-Represented Litigation Network, Handling Cases Involving Self-Represented Litigants: A National Bench Guide for Judges 2–4 (2008).
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Federal courts can impose liability for the prevailing party's attorney fees to the losing party if the judge considers the case frivolous or for purpose of harassment, even when the case was voluntarily dismissed.[56][57] In the case of Fox v. Vice, U.S. Supreme Court held that reasonable attorneys' fees could be awarded to the defendant under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1988, but only for costs that the defendant would not have incurred "but for the frivolous claims."[58][59] Unless there is an actual trial or judgment, if there is only pre-trial motion practice such as motions to dismiss, attorney fee shifting can only be awarded under FRCP Rule 11 and it requires that the opposing party file a Motion for Sanctions and that the court issue an order identifying the sanctioned conduct and the basis for the sanction.[60] Pro se still has a right to appeal any order for sanctions in the higher court.[61] In the state courts, however, each party is generally responsible only for its own attorney fees, with certain exceptions.[57]
To process this dataset, first I eliminated all cases filed before January 1, 1998; the analysis in this Comment considers only cases filed after that date. After that, I dropped the following sets of cases: all cases from non-Article III district courts; all cases with a “local question” as the nature of the suit; all cases that are currently still pending and lack a termination date; all cases that have missing values for the case disposition; all observations that have missing values for the nature of the suit; a variety of cases that have a nature of suit variable indicating that the suits are of a peculiar or inconsequential variety;138 certain categories of suits that have the government as a party;139 and cases that are typically filed by prisoners and are considered “prisoner pro se litigation.”140
Know the Rules of the Road.  Before filing a lawsuit, you must carefully read your state’s code of civil procedure and the court’s local rules. If you also have federal claims and wish to file in federal court, then you must read the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, as well as the particular district’s local rules. In addition, some judges have their own rules called local local rules. You must familiarize yourself with these rules as well.  
The clinic has also introduced a unique program that solicits junior lawyers at firms to take or defend depositions for pro se litigants on a pro bono basis. As a former litigator in private practice Tarnofsky recognized that in high stakes litigation, clients often want experienced lawyers handling depositions.  This program has been welcomed by a number of large New York City law firms an opportunity to train the next generation of lawyers. For pro se litigants it means not having to face a tough deposition on their own, and having a far better chance to tell their stories and make the best case or mount the best defense possible.
136. See Civil Cases Filed, Terminated, and Pending from SY 1988 to Present (Federal Judicial Center, 2017), archived at http://perma.cc/Y4CY-MVG5. Note that the data is not available for download from the Perma link. For the most recent data, see Civil Cases Filed, Terminated, and Pending from SY 1988 to Present (Federal Judicial Center, 2018), available at http://www.fjc.gov/research/idb/civil-cases-filed-terminated-and-pending-
The Judiciary Act of 1789, one of those laws, states that "in all courts of the United States, the parties may plead and manage their own causes personally." It follows that federal judges must respect the pro se litigants' right to represent themselves. Thus, the Supreme Court and Congress have means to remedy the problems with federal judges who disrespect and ignore the rights of pro se litigants.
Try to answer questions on your own. Remember that you are hiring a legal coach, not a full-service lawyer. That means you need to do as much as you can by yourself and only turn to the coach when you are really stuck. By reading this book all the way through and consulting a nearby law library, you can answer many of your questions on your own. And those you cannot answer completely you can often narrow down.

IAALS recently released two new reports focused on the experiences of self-represented litigants in the family court system.  Cases Without Counsel: Research on Experiences of Self-Representation in U.S. Family Court which explores the issues from the litigants' perspective.  Cases Without Counsel: Our Recommendations after Listening to the Litigants outlines recommendations for courts, legal service providers, and communities to best serve self-represented litigants in family cases.


85. Although it’s difficult to pinpoint the factors most responsible for the unfavorable outcomes for many or most pro se litigants, some issues that many district judges cite in explaining the typical challenges of pro se litigants include: pro se plaintiffs’ lack of ability to write legally comprehensible pleadings or submissions, lack of ability to respond to legal motions in fruitful ways, lack of knowledge about relevant legal precedents, issues with timeliness in the legal process, and failure to understand the legal consequences of their actions. For a more complete list of issues that judges perceive pro se litigants face, see Stienstra, Bataillon, and Cantone, Assistance to Pro Se Litigants in U.S. District Courts at *21–23 (cited in note 11).
Strickland v. Washington (1984) Nix v. Whiteside (1986) Lockhart v. Fretwell (1993) Williams v. Taylor (2000) Glover v. United States (2001) Bell v. Cone (2002) Woodford v. Visciotti (2002) Wiggins v. Smith (2003) Holland v. Jackson (2004) Wright v. Van Patten (2008) Bobby v. Van Hook (2009) Wong v. Belmontes (2009) Porter v. McCollum (2009) Padilla v. Kentucky (2010) Sears v. Upton (2010) Premo v. Moore (2011) Lafler v. Cooper (2012) Buck v. Davis (2017)
However, the few reliable studies conducted thus far tend to suggest that providing access to counsel significantly improves outcomes for civil litigants. Greiner and Pattanayak identified two prior studies that were properly conducted to evaluate the effects of access to counsel. While noting it was premature to draw conclusions, they pointed out that one of those studies found that access to counsel was effective in improving case outcomes, and the other study found it effective in improving case outcomes in one of its two experimental settings.56 A follow-up experiment by Greiner, Pattanayak, and Jonathan Hennessy found that the assistance of counsel led to a significant improvement in litigation outcomes compared to more piecemeal assistance.57 Specifically, they found that, from a sample of litigants facing eviction in a district court, about one-third retained their rental units after receiving unbundled legal assistance—legal aid short of an
Over 90% of all lawsuits are resolved without a trial. If you and your adversary can arrive at a fair resolution without going to trial, you can save yourself time and money. By showing you how to prove and disprove legal claims, this book can help you arrive at a fair resolution of your dispute using settlement procedures. For a complete discussion of settlement, see Chapter 6.
Shauna Strickland. Virginia Self-Represented Litigant Study: Outcomes of Civil Cases in General District Court, Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court, and Circuit Court. (December 2017). This report characterizes Circuit Court civil cases by analyzing caseload composition, the presence of legal representation, the level of case contention, and case outcomes.
Unfortunately for this empirical exercise, district courts do not randomly decide whether to implement a particular reform. If these pro se reforms had been randomly assigned, then this analysis would mimic an experiment, and it would be safer to conclude (provided the statistics suggested so) that any differences in case outcomes shown in the tables below were causal. Without random assignment of pro se reforms to district courts, the conclusions of this analysis may suffer from selection bias. For example, courts that are particularly favorable to pro se litigants might also be more likely to implement reforms. If pro se litigants happened to fare better in these courts, it would be difficult to empirically discern whether litigants fare better because of the reforms or the favorable attitude, and some measure of the district court’s favorability toward pro se litigants could be an important omitted variable.
7. At least some commentators have expressed concern that allocating more legal resources to pro se civil litigants might take away from resources needed for indigent criminal defense. See Barton and Bibas, 160 U Pa L Rev at 980–81 (cited in note 5). It is important, however, to recognize that legal resources also may trade off with nonlegal resources, and an analysis accounting for these trade-offs may make the economics of expanded legal resources for pro se litigants look more attractive. Additional money spent on lawyers or pro se assistance might be more economical than it first appears if, for example, additional state spending in an eviction or wrongful termination proceeding saves the government from paying for homeless shelters or welfare assistance at a later date.
The one solution to many of life's worries is simply to laugh them off. If you feel poorly about yourself, rest assured in the knowledge that everyone else does too--and let out a light chuckle about how ridiculous it is that we all worry so much about other's thoughts and opinions. One of the better aspects of growing up and into your own skin is learning how to laugh at yourself when things don't go as planned. The act of developing self-confidence is no different. So, laugh, and see how you'll love yourself just a little bit more with each beautiful, ringing one.

83. Table 2C simply removes cases classified as “Missing/Unknown” or “Both” from Table 2B and recalculates the percentages. All analyses of cases reaching final judgment in this Comment focus on the subset of case dispositions that commonly reach final judgment. Cases dismissed for want of prosecution, that settle, or that otherwise do not typically receive entry of final judgment on resolution are excluded from these analyses. For more discussion of the calculation methodology, see Appendix: AO Data Processing.


Courts have implemented a number of different programs and procedures to assist pro se litigants. For example, the 2011 FJC Survey revealed that twenty-five districts allowed pro se law clerks to directly communicate with pro se litigants about their cases; thirty-five districts allowed pro se litigants to electronically access information about the docket sheet, pleadings, and more through case management/electronic case filing (CM/ECF); nineteen disseminated information about programs for pro se litigants outside the court, such as in public libraries; and ten provided software specifically designed to help pro se litigants prepare their proceedings.66 These types of reforms mirror those suggested by the Supreme Court in Turner:67 for example, providing notice to pro se civil litigants of important issues affecting the case and using forms to solicit relevant information. Likewise, giving access to the docket sheet and pleadings through CM/ECF and allowing communication with a pro se law clerk somewhat fulfills the Supreme Court’s suggestion to increase efforts to provide pro se litigants with notice. The pro se software typically helps simplify filing and participation in civil proceedings, similar to forms that would solicit relevant information.
Remember this phrase: Litigation Privilege. The phrase has a formal meaning, but in layman’s language it means that lawyers can do just about anything, especially to a self-represented litigant, to protect their clients. They can lie, steal, cheat–and kill if they could get away with it–to win. Lawyers don’t always need tricks to defeat pro se litigants, but they try them anyway. They can scare defendants into paying more than they owe or settling for far less than they deserve. They’ll use a request for admissions to make pro se litigants “admit” to undeserved liability by not answering. Some will even attempt to keep away your court reporter by lying to you or to your court reporting agency. So keep your eyes open when you’ve cornered a lawyer. Chances are, there’s a trick coming, and when it does, don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Stay focused on your case. Reacting in anger by moving for sanctions, writing letters to the judge, reporting lawyer behavior in a hearing, or moving to disqualify a lawyer makes thinking and strategizing difficult. That’s not to say certain issues shouldn’t be addressed. If you must take an issue head-on, like moving for sanctions, do it strategically so you’ll get the most out of it. Otherwise, only address lawyer antics and judicial bias when it hurts your case, not when it hurts your feelings.

Your Day in Court. This is a video clip from King County, Washington featuring Judge Mary Yu and Stephen Gonzalez.  Judge Yu explains the basic layout of the courthouse and Judge Gonzalez talks about courtroom procedure.  The information in this video is designed for pro se users of the King County court system but it is general enough that court users in any state can benefit from viewing it.
Some courts issue orders against self representation in civil cases. A court enjoined a former attorney from suing the new lover of her former attorney.[29] The Superior Court of Bergen New Jersey also issued an order against pro se litigation based on a number of lawsuits that were dismissed and a failure to provide income tax returns in case sanctions might issue.[30] The Superior Court of New Jersey issued an order prohibiting a litigant from filing new lawsuits.[31] The Third Circuit however ruled that a restriction on pro se litigation went too far and that it could not be enforced if a litigant certified that he has new claims that were never before disposed of on the merits.[32] The 10th Circuit ruled that before imposing filing restrictions, a district court must set forth examples of abusive filings and that if the district court did not do so, the filing restrictions must be vacated.[33] The District of Columbia Court of Appeals wrote that "private individuals have 'a constitutional right of access to the courts',[34] that is, the 'right to sue and defend in the courts'."[35]
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