With judges statewide uncertain how far they can and should go to accommodate unrepresented litigants, court administrators are proposing an amendment to the Code of Judicial Conduct that would bring New York into line with 25 other states. The proposed amendment would state: "It is not a violation…for a judge to make reasonable efforts to facilitate the ability of unrepresented litigants to have their matters fairly heard." It largely mirrors a model rule of the American Bar Association, with one significant difference.
The ABA model rule says judges can make a reasonable effort to "ensure" that unrepresented litigants have a fair shake. But the Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services in New York suggested deleting the word "ensure" to remove "any concern judges may have about the mandatory nature of the language" and any "risk that this language might encourage litigation by unrepresented litigants who believe they have been denied certain accommodations."
"While the proposed Rule honors judicial discretion, the Task Force recommends that the Administrative Board and court administration urge judges to be sensitive to and to make reasonable accommodations for the needs of unrepresented litigants," the Task Force said in a May letter to Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman signed by Helaine Barnett, chairwoman.
Comments on the proposal must be received by March 25 and can be submitted to OCARule100-3-Bemail@example.com or to John McConnell, counsel, Office of Court Administration, 25 Beaver St., 11th floor, New York, N.Y., 10004. For more information, visit www.newyorklawjournal.com/courtNotes.jsp.