By Daniel Wiessner
NEW YORK, Jan 25 (Reuters) - The New York State Office of
Court Administration has proposed a rule that would authorize
judges to make reasonable efforts to facilitate the ability of
unrepresented litigants to have their matters fairly heard.
Section 100.3 of the state Code of Judicial Conduct
currently lists 11 ethical requirements that judges must meet,
including remaining neutral and refraining from making public
comments about pending proceedings. The rule does not include
any provisions related to pro se litigants.
The proposal, which was released on Thursday, would amend
section 100.3 to read, "it is not a violation of this rule for a
judge to make reasonable efforts to facilitate the ability of
unrepresented litigants to have their matters fairly heard."
OCA is accepting public comments on the proposal through
The proposal was first recommended in May by Helaine
Barnett, the chair of a state task force on access to civil
legal services, in a letter to Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman.
During a series of public hearings held last year, a number
of judges expressed confusion over what steps they could take to
aid unrepresented litigants without compromising their
neutrality, Barnett wrote in the May 31 letter.
"We suggest the issuance of guidelines, including specific
examples, that will help judges better understand the
appropriate boundaries," wrote Barnett, the former president of
the Legal Services Corporation.
In a 1990 opinion, the state Advisory Committee on Judicial
Ethics said that judges may not give legal advice to pro se
litigants and should advise them to speak to an attorney. The
committee's opinions are not binding but may form the basis of
disciplinary action against judges.
In her letter, Barnett said the proposed rule would bring
New York in line with 25 states and the District of Columbia,
which have adopted similar measures. Most are modeled on an
American Bar Association rule that permits judges to make
"reasonable accommodations" for pro se litigants.
South Dakota in 2006 became the first state to adopt a rule
explicitly recognizing that judges may make reasonable
accommodations for pro se litigants, according to the ABA.
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