Reaching out or Overreaching: Judicial Ethics and Self-Represented Litigants

By Emrey, Jolly A. | Justice System Journal, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Reaching out or Overreaching: Judicial Ethics and Self-Represented Litigants


Emrey, Jolly A., Justice System Journal


Reaching Out or Overreaching: Judicial Ethics and Self-Represented Litigants, by Cynthia Gray. Des Moines, IA: American Judicature Society, 2005.

The Center for Judicial Ethics, under the direction of Cynthia Gray, has compiled a study, which includes a curriculum and best practices for courts and, most important, for judges who serve pro se litigants. Gray notes that the number of pro se litigants has increased dramatically since the 1990s. This increase has placed additional demands on the courts; those demands have, for the most part, been met through various innovations developed by the courts-by state courts, in particular. These innovative practices, however, have been mostly administrative in nature and have not involved judges to a great degree.

Gray asserts that there is an ethical concern with respect to the judiciary and the rise in pro se litigants. There is often a perception of bias because pro se litigants believe that they are being treated differently from represented litigants. Although the reality may be that judges are treating pro se litigants impartially, Gray says there are measures that judges can take to ensure that the perception and reality are the same. For example, judges should treat pro se litigants the same as represented litigants and make certain not to address self-represented litigants differently from attorneys. Judges should be aware that any familiarity with attorneys, such as conversations in the hallway before a hearing or invitations to the judge's chambers, may be innocent but could be perceived as bias.

The author also notes that judges have an obligation to make certain that they use language free of jargon and that, in proceedings with pro se litigants, they refrain from intimidating the litigants or demeaning them as they are unrepresented. …

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