An HOV lane makes a lot of sense on the Interstate, but not in a courthouse dedicated to justice for all. It’s good to encourage carpools, right? Foisting traffic jams on one-passenger cars is good public policy. But class action lawsuits are the only reason to have a fast lane in the courthouse. Is it just me? Or is it plain old common sense that all litigants in other types of cases should get the same access to the courts? So then why do lawyers get special treatment across the board?
In your typical courthouse, a lawyer has access to a judge’s outer chambers. That means a lawyer is more likely to get face time with the judge than any pro se litigant on the other side. In most jurisdictions, lawyers have online access to a judge’s calendar and can schedule hearings on their cases independently. Pro se litigants must request available dates from the judge’s assistant and ask permission to notice a hearing.
Lawyers can (and in many cases must) file their motions and pleadings electronically. But there are still too many courts that require pro se litigants to file documents by mail or in person at a clerk’s office. That’s expensive and time-consuming when you consider the cost of serving other parties with every filing.
There are dozens of these “minor” inconveniences for pro se litigants disguised as conveniences for lawyers. This special treatment creates an HOV lane for lawyers that limits access to the courts for the rest of us. For example, my own case is scheduled for a hearing next week. The plaintiff’s lawyer wants to amend his answer to my counterclaim, and he needs a court order because I’ve opposed it. The thing is, I’m not really opposed to his amendment. I don’t care how he answers the counterclaim. I’m forcing him to schedule a hearing because it’s the easiest way for me to get in front of the judge.
I’ve had a motion to compel discovery pending for months, but I can’t just schedule a hearing the way my plaintiff’s lawyer can. He doesn’t have to wait for a judicial assistant to answer his emails and phone calls (or not) the way I do. Bet I’ll get a hearing scheduled on my motion next week.
This is how pro se litigants get blamed for clogging the nation’s courts. It’s not because we’re ignorant of the law or inefficient in our procedures or frivolous in our pleadings. It’s because we don’t have equal access to the courts. The judicial system wants to improve its efficiency by creating special tracks and procedures for pro se litigants, but we apparently already have one. In my humble opinion, the best way to improve efficiency is let us ride in the HOV lane with the lawyers.
Have you been denied equal access to the courts? Been treated differently than the lawyer on the other side? Share in the comments below.