BISMARCK, N.D. (Legal Newsline) – The Supreme Court of North Dakota has re-affirmed the validity of a statute barring the use of non-lawyers as courtroom representatives.
“We… conclude a party who is not represented by a licensed attorney cannot be represented by another person, including their spouse, in any court of record in this state, absent authorization provided by state law or supreme court rule,” the Nov. 16 opinion read.
The statute, N.D.C.C. § 27-11-01, was evoked in a credit card debt collection case from January. The defendant in the case, Lisa Corum, requested that her husband be allowed to speak for her at a court hearing, the opinion states.
She wanted her husband to serve as her spokesman because of her own aversion to public speaking, and because her husband controls the family’s finances and is adept at discussing such matters.
However, the Bottineau County District Court denied the request and awarded summary judgment for the plaintiff, American Express Centurion Bank.
Corum appealed the decision to the Supreme Court arguing she was denied the right to counsel and that her husband was denied his right to free speech. She claimed that because her husband was not allowed to speak for her, she was unable to point out inconsistencies in an affidavit used by American Express.
The Supreme Court ruled that the district court did not err and affirmed the decision.
The court, with Justice Lisa Fair McEvers writing the opinion, found that allowing Corum’s husband to serve as a spokesman would violate N.D.C.C. § 27-11-01’s ban on the practice of law by nonlawyers.
The court also found that the state had a right to enact such a statute and that it does not violate freedom of speech.
According to McEver’s opinion, it has long been an undisputed fact that the state of North Dakota has the ability to regulate the practice of law. Furthermore, this regulation does not violate free speech because it does not represent an attempt by the state to deter free expression or the exchange of ideas, but rather, is meant to prevent the harm caused by unqualified individuals proffering legal advice.