Monday, January 18, 2016

Please, Give Us, "Access to Justice"!

This week the Maine Bar is hosting their annual meeting. This year the Bar is promoting the idea of Access To Justice (A2J). Their idea of what Access To Justice is different than what we would consider a consumers Access To Justice. Presented here is our letter to the Maine Bar regarding this very sensitive issue of Justice and how consumers are able to access this service:

Stephen D Nelson, Esq.
Maine Bar Association

Dear Mr Nelson:

Many members of the public are pleased to learn that the Maine Bar Association has chosen as this year's convention theme, "Access to Justice".  We hope that this uplifting theme inspires your membership to address the growing "Access To Justice" problem of self-representation in Maine courts.  In family courts, the statistic that 75% are 'pro se' means that the 'pro se' litigants outnumber lawyers by a wide margin, and family courts ought to be renamed, 'pro se' courts. The "new normal" in these courts is 'pro se'. Though 'pro se' litigants are the majority in family courts, one would never know it from the power dynamics as attempts to preserve the old ways prevail. And 'pro se' litigants receive 2nd class services (or worse).

I present the following extracts from actual cases for illustrative purposes. They are intended as examples that illustrate the human aspect of "Access To Justice". With a 75% statistic, there are literally hundreds of additional "access to justice" human problems. It needs action from the bar, unless the bar is to limit its legal practice in family courts to those with access to "money". No money, no service - except for limited 'pro bono' charity, which, though worthwhile, doesn't seem to reduce the 75% numbers.

Herewith samples that put a human dimension on the 'pro se'  problems:

1.)  Access to Justice: for many 'pro se' this means inaccessibility of access to 'pro bono"? A case example: one of many.

On several occasions, I sought out legal services that were pro bono, or 'a la carte,' or, in one instance, an hour consult to prepare for a 'pro se' two hour trial in which both myself and my former husband were to be 'pro se', I was told by attorney after attorney that neither pro bono, nor  "a la carte" was an option (not even a FREE one hour consultation).

One highly regarded law office was so bold as to point blank state, Attorney ******* will not meet with you because it would not be "cost effective for her". Cost effective?

2.)  Does "Access To Justice" have to mean bankrupting  clients?

"Once a post-judgement plaintiff and / or defendant has spent every last bit of savings - including all retirement funds- and has liquidated all material assets (as in my case: a home that was once the primary home for our two minor children, all home furnishings, etc....), there will no longer be "access to justice"?

3.)  Does Judicial Role Distortion in 'pro se' cases mean "access to justice"?  Or does judicial improvisation signal the collapse of courts as we have known them?

"In our last trial - as both parties were  'pro se' - the judge did all the questioning. I was unable to cross examine. The defendant told untruths and because the judge did not know the truth from Adam, he had no idea when to challenge a response from the defendant. If I had an attorney, I would have been allowed to challenge the untruths.

A few times I objected and attempted to shed light on what was spoken as truths as being untrue BUT I was not given the benefit to explain the "objections" without presenting as "difficult". Being 'pro se' and without being able to counter defendants claims - there was no access to justice on that day in court. In our first trial - with an attorney present on both sides - "no hear-say was permitted in court."

4.)  Attorney intimidation limits access to justice even for clients who can pay for a lawyer.

'Sua sponte' disciplinary complaints to the Overseers, if an attorney provides too robust a defense, is another factor limiting a client's "Access To Justice". Even those family court defendants who can afford a lawyer may find that their lawyer is intimidated by threats of sanction if a defense is perceived as too robust. In a family court system that is 75% 'pro se', an over-scrupulous concern about how things get done, seems misplaced.  What indeed are the legal standards for a 'pro se' court? Are there any? Selective scrupulosity, using "old normal", standard tools in a "new normal" situation seriously limits "Access To Justice" for clients who can pay, and, looks like a variant of the approach used to control lawyers in Boston in the heyday of the Catholic Church scandals.

Our proposal to the Maine Bar:

We would propose that the Maine state bar seek a legislative mandate to take immediate legal representation responsibility for all 'pro se' litigants in all civil courts, such as the 75% 'pro se' litigants, and that the bar make an equal, fair division of all 'pro se' litigants, to be allocated amongst all licensed bar members, as a condition of receiving a license to practice law in Maine. It would solve the 'pro se'  problem pronto (and the human hardship therein), while research goes on. Alternatively, the bar might decide to turn family courts entirely over to the 75% 'pro se', and establish a separate court for the wealthy, full paying parties.  It is rapidly reaching that point of inflection anyway.

Yours for seeking solutions to 'pro se' "outside of the box"!

MeGAL has been working for Guardian ad litem and court reform. Access to Justice (A2J) is another part of the problem with our Courts where over 50% of the population who consume judicial services are doing so on their own. The Maine Bar Association is having their annual meeting and the theme for this year is Access to Justice. Or is it? If you have had issues with the courts, as a Pro se litigant, represented by a lawyer who fears the courts - we ask that you contact us with your story. We can be reached at or find us on Facebook

Further resources:

A2J Canada - Canadian Bar

Canadian Forum on Civil Justice

2013-08-13 Access to justice in Canada ‘abysmal’: CBA Report

2014-02-05 Access to Justice: Help coming for people headed to Canada’s civil and family courts

National Center for Access to Justice ( NCAJ )

Department of Justice - Access To Justice


  1. I like #4 never really thought about it that way. Lawyers who are a tiger in the office but turn sheepish in the court room for their client. I had a lawyer who was very much like that and at $200.00 per hr I expected more.