A Modest Proposal
A Texas colleague, Daniel Louis Simon, who was recently sanctioned for working with me (>>”Charles Lincoln has spearheaded efforts to have the Texas Family Code declared unconstitutional. He has enlisted the assistance of numerous pro se litigants, including Defendant Daniel Simon….”>> as Judge Walter S. Smith wrote in Waco on March 25, 2008) is constantly complaining to me about the high filing fees in various courts, but especially Federal. (It is worth noting that, for Dan and me today, the minimum filing fee in Federal Court has been raised to $150,350.00—if this is not an “attainder” of rights I don’t know what would be—especially since I was neither summoned nor named as a party nor subpoenaed as a witness in Dan’s late case against the Attorney General—the notion of “actions in excess of jurisdiction” rings loudly in my head—and I know that good will ultimately triumph as I know that my redeemer liveth…).
I disagree with him on this point, only because NOTHING in life is or, (in my view) OUGHT to be free, except perhaps the air, rain, and sunshine. Since I’ve been involved in Federal Court litigation, the filing fees have gone up from $80 to $350, after a long rest at $125, and the quality of the Judges has notably gone down. Even so, I’d say that of all the services provided by government, the THEORETICAL potential utility of filing a federal lawsuit is huge—multiple law clerks, interns, courtroom deputies, secretaries examine cases, and to have GOOD judges who carefully weigh evidence and consider the law (such as the two I worked for, a long, long time ago….Stephen Reinhardt of the 9th Circuit and Kenneth
L. Ryskamp of the Southern District of Florida) reviewing your case, whatever it is—even at $350.00 ($450 for appellate filings) is a bargain. But the bad judges now unquestionably outnumber the good. And the corrupt lawyers now unquestionably outnumber the honest ones. If there are any left INSIDE the bar at all, I and all the lawyers I know who believe that judicial or any other governmental failure to follow the constitution is treason—they have all been disbarred…..we have all been disbarred.
So in essence, there’s absolutely NO POINT in hiring a licensed attorney anymore—unless you have nothing but money to burn. Lawyers will (for the most part) coerce you into a settlement if you’re in a civil (especially a divorce or custody) case and into a plea bargain if you’re in a criminal case.
The solution more-and-more people HOPE will work is going pro se. But court rules (and, for that matter, the law itself) are (is) complicated and applied in an almost hopelessly arbitrary and capricious manner.
So I modestly propose the following: the filing fee should be raised to $3,500.00 (never to exceed $5,000) for all cases filed by licensed attorneys (and held to their current rate $350/$450, never to exceed $500 for pro se litigants), but the proceeds from this increased filing fee for attorneys should be utilized to provide evening and weekend classes as well as weekday classes, to be available continuously on a year round basis, to all pro se litigants.
A pro se litigant should be allowed to meet any deadlines (e.g. a statute of limitations or other statutory bar to suit) by filing a “Notice of Complaint” [“or Notice of Answer”—if the pro se litigant is a defendant”] or similar document with the clerk, but the pro se litigant should then be allowed to delay the actual filing of his Complaint (or answer or 12(b)(6) Motion, whatever is necessary) for up to SIX MONTHS provided he attends law classes every week during this time period.
ATTORNEYS WHO WILL TEACH THESE PRO SE LAW CLASSES FOR FREE would be allowed the ordinary (current, pro se) filing fees for as long as they provide the services. The concept of “sharing one’s knowledges, privileges, and education” and “noblesse oblige” should be appealing even to some members of the bar. They want to act like nobility when it comes to wielding power? They should show some genuine nobility of spirit, also—and not just through the pittance of “billable hours” allocated at some large law firms to “politically correct” charity causes…..
The pro se filing fee should include both a CD and a paper copy of the Federal Rules of Civil (or Criminal) procedure, Federal Rules of Evidence, and a COMPLETE CASE ANNOTATED copy of Title 28 U.S. Code on the Judiciary and Courts), and all persons served with Federal Lawsuits who cannot afford to hire an attorney, but who file a “Notice of Answer” and agree to participate in the pro se litigation classes should be provided with this same level of support (a CD and a paper copy of the same rules and statutes).
The courts cannot be trusted to protect the “little guy” under the present system and circumstances. But freedom without equality of access to the Courts is almost unimaginable. The filing fees we currently pay are quite adequate to cover the costs of the books and CDS proposed here.
The additional fees or teaching required of lawyers would enable attorneys to raise their standing in the community, force them to treat “common people” (i.e. untitled non-attorneys or other “lesser nobility”) equally. Such classes would facilitate communication and generally improve the quality of litigation in the courts. I consider this a very modest reform proposal.
(Dan wrote me after I had originally published this post: “I still feel Pro Ses should not have to pay a penny…but I agree with all your other points. The high fee for lawyers and those represented by lawyers…and the school/help for Pro Ses.”) Ultimately, I think that the educational system in the United States needs to be reformed so that no one graduates High School/registers to vote without not merely basic literacy but LEGAL literacy and competence. I understand the historical reasons why literacy tests were abolished in the United States 40-50 years ago, but I think it’s high time they were reinstated, and applied to elected officials as well (could George W. Bush have passed?????)
[Originally Published here on June 21, 2008, at 19:10 p.m., last edited June 24, 2008 at 5:46 am,—I must have been either in Palm Beach, Florida, or Cambridge, Massachusetts at the time, republished October 12, 2011 at 12:13 am]