Posts tagged Omaha

In twenty words or fewer: simple solutions to stupid problems

OMAHA, Neb. — When Danielle Nitzel found her three-year-old marriage drawing its last breath in 2004, she couldn’t afford the minimum of $1,000 she was told she would need to hire a divorce lawyer.

So she did what more and more Americans are doing: She represented herself in court.

I looked online and just tried to figure out how to write out the paperwork, said Nitzel, a nursing student who at the time had little money and a pile of education loans. I think it cost us $100 to file it ourselves.

The number of people serving as their own lawyers is on the rise across the country, and the cases are no longer limited to uncontested divorces and small claims. Even people embroiled in child custody cases, potentially devastating lawsuits and bankruptcies are representing themselves, legal experts say.

It’s not just that poor people can’t afford lawyers. This is really a middle-class phenomenon, said Sue Talia, a judge from Danville, Calif., and author of Unbundling Your Divorce: How to Find a Lawyer to Help You Help Yourself.

The trend has resulted in court systems clogged with filings from people unfamiliar with legal procedure. Moreover, some of these pro se litigants, as they are known, are making mistakes with expensive and long-lasting consequences — perhaps confirming the old saying that he who represents himself has a fool for a client.

Paul Merritt, a district judge in Lancaster County, Neb., said he knows of cases in which parents lost custody disputes because they were too unfamiliar with such legal standards as burden of proof.

There is a lot on the line when you have a custody case, Merritt said. There are a lot of things that judges take into consideration in determining what’s in the best interest of the child, and if you’re a pro se litigant, the chances that you will know what those things are, and that you will present evidence of all those issues, are really small.

While the fees lawyers charge vary widely, the average hourly rate ranges from around $180 to $285 in the Midwest, and from $260 to more than $400 on the West Coast, according to legal consultant Altman Weil Inc.

Tim Eckley of the American Judicature Society in Des Moines, Iowa, said no national figures are kept on how many people represent themselves, but I don’t think anybody who’s involved in the courts would deny that this is a growing trend in the last 10 to 15 years.

In California, about 80 percent represent themselves in civil family law cases — such as divorce, custody and domestic violence cases — according to the Self-Represented Litigation Network. In San Diego alone, the number of divorce filings involving at least one person not represented by a lawyer rose from 46 percent in 1992 to 77 percent in 2000.

In Nebraska in 2003, 13,295 people represented themselves in civil cases in state district courts. By 2007, the number had risen to 32,016, or 45 percent.

The result?

Courts are absolutely inundated with people who do not understand the procedures, Talia said. It is a disaster for high-volume courts, because an inordinate amount of their clerks’ time is spent trying to make sure that the procedures are correctly followed.

Talia has traveled to nearly every state to speak to lawyers, judges and court workers about measures to handle the growing number of people representing themselves.

— Margery A. Gibbs, Associated Press (2008-11-24): More Americans serving as their own lawyers

Why not just make the procedures simpler?

Do courts really need to stand on ceremony at the expense of justice?

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ALLy ALLy oxen free….

Guess who wins a government award, from the Ministry of Cultural Exchange in this secessionist republic of one, for the most attractive ALL local outreach logo?

The answer is Shawn Wilbur, of the Northwest Alliance of the Libertarian Left, with his call for ALLiance in Occupied Cascadia:

Northwest Alliance of the Libertarian Left - Join!

Sure beats my photoshop defacements of tourist traps and paint company logos, anyway. Congrats, Shawn!

Alliance of the Libertarian Left Ad Hoc Global Organizing Committee

Now, then. Do you know any individualist anarchists, agorists, mutualists, left-Rothbardians or others on the libertarian left in or nearby any of the following metropolitan areas, who might be interested in getting involved, or getting more involved, in local activism and organizing? (If that description matches you yourself, that’s good enough, too.)

If so, please drop me a line with their contact information. I have some requests from prospective local organizers who are looking for people to start locals for the Alliance of the Libertarian Left. I would love to be able to put them in touch with anyone locally who might be interested.

On the subject of the Organizing Committee website, I’ve been getting some very good suggestions from other ALLies about materials to make available up there, and sketching out a few ideas of my own on paper. Most of these I hope to be adding over the next several days.

The main one that is now available, more or less live, is a feature to provide contact pages specific to each location where the Organizing Committee has gotten inquiries (click through on the links to each city above — for example, Baltimore — to see what it looks like). The main point is to have a landing-pad for each place we get an inquiry from, and to give prospective ALLies more information about how many people are interested in getting organized. Right now, this consists of a landing page, a map with one or more pins representing inquiring ALLies, and a quick count of the number who have inquired. My hope is to make this somewhat more sophisticated over time (right now, it’s mainly just some pretty wrapper over an e-mail form; I hope to add some features to find, e.g., how many people are interested in a particular state, possibly some sort of public Wall feature, etc.). But this will do for a start.

What I’d like to work on for the next few days is adding advice on getting started, on organizing, on ideas for activism, and so on. I’ll be incorporating some of the suggestions I’ve gotten already, and I’d like to put together some pages specifically on:

  1. A step-by-step guide to starting a new ALL local (along the lines of guides like Seven Steps To Starting A Food Not Bombs Group);

  2. Some advice focusing on organizing locals on college campuses, in particular;

  3. A sampler platter of actions and projects that existing ALLs have worked on, with an eye to giving people ideas for what they can do to kick off their ALL local, and what they might do as they get themselves established.

Which leads me to ask you all, gentle readers:

  1. If you have any suggestions, either for particular ideas or pieces of advice to add, or for focused sections that you think would be particularly useful, let me know. Let’s discuss in comments. And…

  2. If you were to pick out a sampler of four or five actions or projects that your own ALL local has worked on, or that some ALLies you know about have worked on, which you would like to add as suggestions for ALL organizers trying to make plans for a new ALL local, what would you pick? Let’s discuss in comments.

Onward.

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