Editorial: Supreme Court Bats Zero In Certifying Pro Se Petitions

The Connecticut Law Tribune

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Of 49 pro se petitions filed in 2013, the grant rate was 0.0 percent. It may be that every single one of them lacked merit. But we wonder.

Judges have in the past decade been warning about the vast increase in pro se parties (recently also known as "self-represented parties") in the trial and intermediate appellate courts in Connecticut and elsewhere. Much ink has been spilled on this intractable issue. We wish to publicize an inevitable by-product of this issue: pro se parties saying, "I'm going to take my case to the Supreme Court."

Of course, the pro se party is probably thinking U.S. Supreme Court, where the chances for both lawyers and the pro se getting a case accepted are in the low single-digit percentages.

So let us focus on the Connecticut Supreme Court. In past decades, the percentage of petitions for certification being granted ranged, percentage-wise, from the high teens to the low 20s. There wasn't much need for lawyers to break out the percentage for pro se petitions because they were relatively infrequent. So we told our clients that the average odds of a petition being granted were, say, 20 percent.

We decided to take a look at the petitions the state Supreme Court ruled on in 2013 through Nov. 18. There were 286 petitions, of which 58 were granted, a rate of 20.3 percent. This is right in the middle of what experienced lawyers would expect. But 49 (17.1 percent) of the petitions were filed by pro se parties, and none were granted. If we back the pro se petitions out of the total number, the grant rate for petitions filed by lawyers (58 of 237) increases to 24.4 percent from 20.3 percent.

The important public-policy point is not that lawyers need to revise their advice to their clients about the odds of their petitions being granted. The important point is that, of 49 pro se petitions filed in 2013, the grant rate was zero percent. It may be that every single one of the petitions lacked merit and thus the grant rate if lawyers had filed all 49 of them would still be zero percent. But we wonder. Contrasting 58 out of 237 with zero out of 49 would make anyone wonder.

A possible pilot project for a bar organization might be to have junior lawyers who want to do appellate work review recently filed petitions, and the Appellate Court decisions they are attacking, to see if significant numbers of meritorious questions are being missed. If so, the next step might be for a bar organization either to assist pro se parties who have meritorious issues or to set up a framework internally and with the Supreme Court for time to review and seek approval for the filing of an amicus application in support of a poorly presented but meritorious petition.

A bar organization might be able more easily to reach consensus on pointing out to the Supreme Court that an issue has merit without having to take sides on who should ultimately win at the high court.

Our legal system is meant to produce justice and we lawyers play a major role in producing it. When the pro se petition rate is zero out of 49, the bar has a duty at least to take a look.•

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