Judges say self-representation hurts litigants

CHICAGO (Legal Newsline) -- State trial judges, in a survey released Monday by the American Bar Association, say an increase in self-representation is hurting both those parties involved and the courts.

About 1,000 state trial judges responded to the survey, which asked questions about their dockets, self-representation and its impact on the state court system.

The findings of the survey were released at a news conference earlier Monday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

More than half of the judges said their dockets increased in 2009. The most common areas of increase included foreclosures, domestic relations, consumer issues such as debt and non-foreclosure house issues such as rental disputes.

Sixty percent of the judges polled said fewer parties are being represented by lawyers, instead choosing to represent themselves.

Sixty-two percent said parties are "negatively impacted" by not being represented.

According to the survey, many of the self-represented parties commit procedural errors, perform ineffective witness examinations, provide ineffective arguments, fail to properly object to evidence and fail to present necessary evidence.

Amid a continued sagging economy, state officials are tightening budgets and asking agencies -- including the courts -- to become more efficient.

Those surveyed judges say the increase in non-represented parties makes this more difficult for the courts. Seventy-eight percent said the lack of representation "has a negative impact on the court." Ninety percent said court procedures are "slowed" when parties are not represented.

Nearly half of the judges who responded believe there is a "middle-class gap" with respect to access of justice, saying the number of people who aren't represented and who don't qualify for aid has increased.

The survey of judges on the impact of the economic downturn on representation in the courts was conducted for the bar association's Coalition for Justice.

The American Bar Association has a resource page on its website that can help individuals find legal assistance -- www.findlegalhelp.org.

More Stories