Opinion: Court Rules Should Not Favor Self-Represented Litigants
To The Editor:
In its October 7, 2013 piece entitled "Judicial Assistance to Self-Represented Litigants," the Connecticut Law Tribune's Editorial Board calls on the Connecticut judiciary to clarify the extent of a trial judge's discretion to relax rules of procedure and evidence as applied to self-represented litigants (SRLs).
In the board's view, Connecticut judges need some help to understand and apply Rule 2.2 of Connecticut's Code of Judicial Conduct. Rule 2.2 is entitled "Impartiality and Fairness" and articulates the important, self-evident expectation that a "judge shall uphold and apply the law and shall perform all duties of judicial office fairly and impartially." Comment 4 goes one step further, assuring judges that "[i]t is not a violation of this Rule for a judge to make reasonable accommodations to ensure self-represented litigants the opportunity to have their matters fairly heard."
Under the guise of clarifying Comment 4, the Editorial Board is seeking to expand it. The board wants judges to act differently in SRL cases from cases in which attorneys represent the parties. Whenever SRLs appear before a trial court, the board thinks Connecticut judges should be:
• Giving SRLs "information about procedures and evidentiary requirements."
• Asking "neutral questions . . . to elicit and clarify information provided by witnesses."
• Questioning "any witness for clarification when the facts are confused, undeveloped, or misleading."
• "Relaxing technical rules concerning the form of questions and foundation requirements for evidence."
• "Refraining from employing technical language and legal jargon."
• Explaining "the process and ground rules for an evidentiary hearing," including "the elements and burden of proof; and the kinds of evidence that can be presented and kinds of evidence that cannot be considered."