Summer 2008 - #8. Yes, Virginia, There is a Pro Bono Rule.

Author:by Mary C. Ashcroft, Esq.

Vermont Bar Journal


Summer 2008 - #8.

Yes, Virginia, There is a Pro Bono Rule

The Vermont Bar Journal #174, Volume 34, No. 2 SUMMER 2008

Yes, Virginia, There is a Pro Bono Ruleby Mary C. Ashcroft, Esq.The VBA hosted a panel discussion of pro bono publico service during its midyear bar meeting on March 27, 2008 This article reflects that discussion.

We've seen them in the lobbies of our courthouses, looking worried, shuffling blindly through unfamiliar papers. We've overheard their flood of questions to harried court clerks. We've tried to answer their hesitating and apologetic queries on the phone or standing in line at the grocery store.

These are the pro se litigants: the folks who can't afford our help, and who likely need it the most.

Chief Justice Paul Reiber recently addressed the alarming increase in pro se litigants in Vermont courts, a trend reflected in courts all over the United States. Speaking as part of a panel discussing Rule 6.1 of the Vermont Rules of Professional Conduct, the Chief cited some sobering statistics:(fn1)

* A 2001 Vermont access to justice study(fn2) revealed that low income Vermonters faced more than 60,000 legal problems every year. These issues range from housing and family matters to consumer problems and loss of government benefits. * 75 percent of these low income families faced their legal problem without help. * In 70 percent of the divorce or parentage cases involving dependent children, neither party was represented by an attorney. In only 14 percent of such family cases were both litigants represented by attorneys. * Recent trends confirm the earlier study. The Chief Justice's informal survey of the family court system in Vermont found that only about 20 percent of family cases have parties represented on both sides. * The number of newly filed family court cases is holding steady-- 15,000 in 2001 compared to 15,500 in 2007. * The number of post-judgment filings has jumped from 3,600 in 2001 to 4,200 in 2007. Rarely are parties in post-judgment matters represented by attorneys. "This is a point of real concern," said Chief Justice Reiber, noting that post- judgment cases are often complex, especially those involving custody of minor children.

Vermont's slowing economy is also having its impact in the courts. Therese Corsones, Esq., Rutland Superior Court Clerk, reported that certain types of cases involving pro se litigants have burgeoned in her court. In 2007, evictions, collections, and foreclosure matters occupied fully two-thirds of the Rutland Superior Court docket:

* Of the 210 evictions filed, in only 12 were defendants represented by an attorney. * In the 263 collections cases filed in 207, only 22...

To continue reading