July 2009

Demanding Accountability

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For Whom Does Your Court Work?


By Curt Chancler

Pro Se litigants are those who prefer to defend themselves in court without benefit of a BAR licensed attorney. As more and more Pro Se litigants appear in court it becomes immediately obvious the stranglehold the BAR and Judiciary has on the system. Even though judges are admonished by their own rules to protect and help the Pro Se this is often not the case. In fact a Pro Se is often demeaned by the judge and ridiculed by the opposing attorneys. Their pleadings are ignored. Meetings between the judge and attorneys are closed to the Pro Se. These meetings are held outside the view and often knowledge of the Pro Se and the public. They are passed off as “procedural” or “working” meetings not open to the Pro Se even though it is their case as well. In spite of these problems there are more Pro Se litigants every year. This is due in part to the cost of litigation and in part to the fact that when an attorney is hired all legal rights are passed over to that attorney. The court system fosters the notion that only they—judges, attorneys and all those departments supported by you—can do the job when in reality they have made an industry of the law. Once you sign that agreement with the attorney you are nothing more than a name on the page. That attorney “acts in your stead.” The only way to buck that system is to go Pro Se.

One case of this is demonstrated in Linn County, OR court where Pro Se Jeanne Wollman has been denied reasonable access to the court records through harassment and not only unfair but unsafe treatment by Court Administrator, Don Smith and presiding Judge Rick McCormick.

The records in this probate case now total nine four inch binders and are impossible to view adequately while forced to stand or sit at a narrow window ledge. Due to her Pro Se status she is deemed to be second class and not afforded equal protection under the law.

When Court Administrator Don Smith was asked about this he said it was simply “Procedure”. Presiding Court Judge Rick McCormick said it was because Ms. Wollman had “two or three years previously marked a page in the file”. When asked to speak with the county employee who made the accusation she was refused the right to meet with her accuser. When she asked to see the defaced page that request was also denied.

When questioned as to why attorneys in the case were allowed a room and a large table to view the records, Judge McCormick stated that it was because attorneys were members of the BAR he could sanction, but he had no control over a Pro Se - so he was free to deny them easy access to the records. It did not matter to Judge McCormick that in so doing he prevented them from reasonably preparing to defend themselves in court. In other words it appears that in Linn County the public, the citizen, the Pro Se is second class and not worthy of protection or of any constitutional rights. It is apparent that your right to adequately defend yourself in Linn County is administratively curtailed.

Judge McCormick told Ms. Wollman if there was a problem it should be taken to Kingsley Click at the State Attorney General’s office. Ms. Wollman went to the state judicial building in Salem and requested to speak with Ms. Click. It was found that Ms. Click was far too busy and, without ever talking to the litigant, decreed the Linn County Court Administrator and Presiding Judge could do as they wished.

At this time the 68 year old Ms. Wollman, Pro Se in her father’s probate hearing, is being forced to perch on a rolling stool in a high traffic area trying to prepare her case. This is in spite of a table and chairs within three feet of that narrow window. No attorney would have to suffer this indignity, but being part of “the public”, a Pro Se in Linn County allows Judge McCormick the privilege to put her at risk and deny her the right to prepare an adequate defense.

It has been found that the county elected officials have no control over the Linn County Judicial system. Even though the Linn County Court is located in the Linn County Courthouse the space is actually rented to the state judicial system and is separate from the county. In other words, “the people” elect their judges but once in office the state takes over and “the people” lose all control of their system. You are at the mercy of the court and its minions. At least in the Linn County, Oregon court system this is apparently true.

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