Legal Bits Episode 422

Time for another episode of Legal Bits, our occasional series on fascinating legal news. There’s lot going on in the world of litigation, and even more in the broader legal field. But the best bits that have caught my attention have histories going back several years, and some are international. Let’s dive right in! First up, there’s a group of libertarians running around Keene, New Hampshire filling parking meters that have expired or are about to expire. What a wonderful, generous thing to do! Who could be mad about that?

Well, city leaders and the employees hired to write parking tickets, apparently. The city sued Robin Hood of Keene members in 2013 to force them to stop dropping nickels in city parking meters, claiming they were harassing the city’s parking enforcement officers. Members of the group follow ticket writers around town to fill meters before cars can be ticketed, and they are guilty of harassment. Luckily, the state supreme court ruled in favor of the group this year on First Amendment grounds. City officials can sometimes be harassed in their official duties; it goes with the job. So Keene’s coffers will continue to drain until they find a replacement for lost parking fines.

Next, we know there are millions of self-represented litigants in U.S. civil courts, but it turns out we are also clogging Canada’s courts. Combat reporter Alison MacLean, who once represented herself in divorce proceedings, says she’d rather be on a battlefield in Afghanistan than on her own in a Canadian courtroom. More than half the litigants in Canadian family courts are there without lawyers, and a recent study found more than two-thirds of individual Canadian litigants were representing themselves. As is true in the U.S., judges are not always happy to see us. An appellate court recently reversed a lower court’s decision based on a catalog of disrespectful and derogatory statements from the bench toward one of the litigants in the case, who was representing himself. Sounds familiar to me and most others who’ve spent time in court without a lawyer. The court’s 92-paragraph opinion was a harsh rebuke of the judge, and of the frequent abuse leveled against self-represented litigants. Hopefully the court’s smackdown sends a message to Canadian judges to at least make a pretense of fairness.

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Finally, a man in Tampa, Florida has learned to keep a house over his head through the skillful use of bankruptcy procedures in lieu of actual money. Paul Stenstrom first filed bankruptcy in 2002 to block a foreclosure on his home. He held the bank off for 12 years by stringing that process along and filing new petitions as necessary. The bank finally took his home and he rented another, but his money went funny again. He recently filed another bankruptcy petition — his 15th — to stop his landlord from evicting him. Bankruptcy petitions are among the few processes designed to protect the property of debtors, and they can be abused like any other process. Stenstrom is certainly abusing the bankruptcy code, but I can’t be mad at him. He’s simply turning the tables on a system designed to plunder those without wealth. There are, after all, far more interesting ways to stop an eviction: (You’ll want the lyrics.)

That’s it for this episode of Legal Bits. Share some legal news that’s caught your eye lately in the comments below.

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