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November 2011

Noting Growing Acceptance, Circuit Denies Sanction for Ghostwriting

Mark Hamblett, New York Law Journal 

11-23-11 -- Addressing head on for the first time the issue of attorney ghostwriting, a federal appeals court said yesterday that a Manhattan immigration attorney had not engaged in sanctionable misconduct when she drafted petitions for parties appearing pro se. . . . Judges Jose Cabranes (See Profile), Robert Sack (See Profile) and Richard Wesley (See Profile) of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit made that decision in In re Fengling Liu, 09-90006-am, while also adopting a disciplinary report recommending that attorney Fengling Liu be publicly reprimanded for other misconduct. ****** In a per curiam opinion yesterday, the circuit said some courts have found attorneys guilty of misconduct for ghostwriting, including the Tenth Circuit in Duran v. Carris, 238 F.3d 1268 (2001). . . . The Second Circuit said the Duran court found the ghostwriting had "inappropriately afforded the former client the benefit of the liberal construction rule for pro se pleadings, had shielded the attorney from accountability for his actions." As a result, the court concluded, the ghostwriting had run afoul of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11(a)—the requirement that all pleadings motions and papers be signed by the party's attorney. . . . On the other hand, the Second Circuit said, a number of bar association ethics committees have been "more accepting," with a number of opinions that "suggest a possible trend toward greater acceptance of various forms of ghostwriting."


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September 2011


Pro Se Defense Attorney to Be Shocked If He Leaves Authorized Courtroom Area During RICO Trial

By Martha Neil, ABA Journal

09-19-11 -- Four U.S. marshals will be in the courtroom as attorney Paul Bergrin goes on trial in federal court in Newark, N.J., next month in a racketeering case in which he is accused of operating his law firm as a criminal enterprise and conspiring with another New Jersey lawyer to murder government witnesses. . . . But that's not not enough security, court officials apparently have decided. Bergrin, who is defending himself pro se, will also wear a hidden ankle bracelet. If he moves too far from his assigned area of the courtroom and violates rules against approaching the bench or the jury, he could get a jolting electric shock from the marshals, via the bracelet, according to the Bergen Record.

Additional Advice for Pro Se Litigants

Rebellion Alone is not Patriotism

July 2011


Tennessee high court makes divorce easier, cheaper for some

By Richard Locker, Memphis Commercial Appeal

07-27-11 -- Starting Sept. 1, Tennesseans without minor children or pension plans will be able to file for divorce without lawyers, using “plain-language” forms approved today by the Tennessee Supreme Court provided they agree on the terms. . . . The court adopted a new rule creating the forms for uncontested divorces and making them acceptable in courts across Tennessee effective Sept. 1. They’re accompanied by easy-to-read instructions, including what will happen in court and what not to wear there. (“No shorts. No tank tops or low-cut tops. No crop tops that show your belly.”) . . . The rule and forms were recommended in January by the Access to Justice Commission, which the Supreme Court appointed to study how to improve access to justice, especially by people with lower incomes. The court received public comments on the issue, then agreed to enact the rule and forms.

PDF DOCUMENT: New Tennessee simple divorce form


Non-Lawyers Find It Hard Avoid Breaking Bar’s Vague Rules

By Daniel Fisher Forbes (blog)

07-25-11 -- For the better part of a decade, Della Tarpinian has been locked in a Kafkaesque battle with a trade association she doesn’t belong to, the Kentucky Bar Association. She’s been fined $5,000 and ordered to pay the costs of her investigation, for violating rules that the average non-lawyer might find maddeningly vague and hard to understand. . . . Such as: “A person is guilty of unlawful practice of law when, without a license issued by the Supreme Court, he engages in the practice of law.” That one tripped up Tarpinian, 53, who runs a small document-preparation firm in Owensboro, Kentucky specializing in uncontested divorces, wills and other simple legal matters. . . . After a lengthy investigation, the Kentucky Bar determined that Tarpinian’s clients couldn’t possibly have figured out how to fill out the paperwork they filed in court, without her coaching them behind the scenes. What surprised Tarpinian — and many other document-preparers around the country — is that the Bar could drag her before the state Supreme Court and have her fined for, as she sees it, competing against its members. Especially since a jury acquitted Tarpinian of similar charges in a 2004 criminal trial, after less than half an hour of deliberations.


Michael Rivers of Springfield wins legal battle against parking meter

By Jack Flynn, The Republican

07-18-11 -- After two years, $450 in legal fees and enough aggravation to last a lifetime, Michael D. Rivers has prevailed over a parking meter 1112 in Hampden Superior Court. . . . In a surprise ruling last week, Superior Court Judge Cornelius J. Moriarty II threw out a $25 parking ticket issued to Rivers in 2009, giving the retired School Department audio visual supervisor a victory in his battle against the Springfield Parking Authority and one of its 620 parking meters. . . . For Rivers, who represented himself in court, the ruling was a long-awaited vindication in a case involving multiple court dates, two judges, a city Law Department attorney, a hearing officer and a meter maid. . . . Still, he hardly sounded jubilant over his victory. . . . “I prosecuted the case without legal help – something I will never do again,” the Leyfred Terrace resident said. “It was painful, like doing my own dentistry.” . . . The parking authority’s executive director, Harold “Hal” King, was philosophical after the court’s decision.


Stranger moves into foreclosed home, citing little-knownTexas law

by Casey Norton/ WFAA, 

07-15-11 -- A little-known Texas law and a foreclosure could have a man in Flower Mound living on easy street. . . . Flower Mound's Waterford Drive is lined with well-manicured $300,000 homes. So, when a new neighbor moved in without the usual sale, mortgage-paying homeowners had a few questions. . . . "What paperwork is it and how is it legally binding if he doesn't legally own the house?" said Leigh Lowrie, a neighboring resident. "He just squats there." . . . Lowrie and her husband said the house down the street was in foreclosure for more than a year and the owner walked away. Then, the mortgage company went out of business. . . . Apparently, that opened the door for someone to take advantage of the situation. But, Kenneth Robinson said he's no squatter. He said he moved in on June 17 after months of research about a Texas law called "adverse possession."

Wells Fargo Loses FINRA Arbitration Case to Pro Se Former Employee

By Bill Singer, Forbes

07-11-11 -- In a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) Arbitration Statement of Claim filed in January 2011, Claimant Wells Fargo sought $11,000 in damages, $1,475.00 in filing fees, and $3,300.00 in collection fees for an amount owed pursuant to the terms of an Investment Broker Agreement and subsequent settlement agreement. Claimant Wells Fargo was represented by its in-house legal counsel Michael Naccarato, Esq. Respondent DeBord represented himself pro se. . . . In the FINRA Arbitration Between Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC, formerly known as Wachovia Securities LLC, Claimant, vs. Laurence Debord, Respondent (FINRA Arbitration 11-00135, June 29, 2011)

You Lose — Because I Say So

In adjudicating this FINRA arbitration, the sole FINRA Arbitrator advises us that:

1) Claimant’s claim is denied in its entirety. 2) Claimant’s request for interest is denied. 3) Claimant’s request for costs is denied. 4) All other relief requests are denied. 5) FINRA Dispute Resolution shall retain the $1,050.00 filing fee previously deposited by Claimant. OTHER FEES: Claimant was assessed the $425.00 Member Surcharge.

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June 2011


Disbarred Ex-BigLaw Associate Wins Pro Se Appeal of $600K Fine in Insider-Trading Case

By Martha Neil, ABA Journal

06-13-11 -- After pleading guilty in 2007 to an insider-trading conspiracy, a former associate at Thacher Proffitt & Wood lost a parallel civil case brought by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on summary judgment. . . . However, Amir Rosenthal apparently spent at least some of his 33-month sentence to good purpose in the prison law library before being released early last year. Representing himself pro se, he successfully argued before the New York City-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that a $600,000 civil penalty imposed in the SEC case should be overturned, the New York Law Journal reports in an article reprinted in New York Lawyer (reg. req.).

May 2011


Robert Sciarrino/The Star-Ledger

Mark Newton, right, reacts as his photograph is taken in open court. He along with his wife Andrea and his son, appeared in Superior Court in Newark before Judge Ned Rosenberg in February.

Landlords say Newark man refuses to pay rent, trashes apartments, then ties them up in court


By Barry Carter/The Star-Ledger The Star-Ledger

05-15-11 -- He looks like an attorney in his crisp gray suit, white shirt and red patterned tie. . . . Not only does he dress the part, Mark Newton knows the law. In fact, an exhaustive Star-Ledger review of his court filings shows that for at least 19 years he has made Superior, chancery, federal and municipal courtrooms his virtual offices, representing himself in hundreds of court battles — though he has no license to practice law. . . . His specialty? Avoiding eviction. And he is relentlessly effective. . . . Interviews with landlords and neighbors and an examination of court documents provide a portrait of a man waging an almost continual war of attrition, fighting one eviction after another for years on end, filing lawsuits, complaints, subpoenas, asking for judge recusals and seeking postponements. He sometimes has multiple cases going simultaneously in different courts, always acting pro se, meaning he is his own "lawyer." . . . Neighbors, judges, landlord’s family members and attorneys all have found themselves in Newton’s crosshairs. If there is a more active pro se litigant in New Jersey, no one has heard of it. Mark Newton is the pro se king. . . . "He learned to work the system in such a way that he could take me to several different courts,’’ said Karyn Stewart, who claims she spent $5,000 in attorney fees trying to evict Newton. "There’s probably not a landlord in Essex County who doesn’t know Mark Newton. Somebody has got to put a stop to him.’’ . . . The Newton system, according to court documents and dozens of interviews with adversaries, goes something like this: The 51-year old Newark man moves his family into an apartment or house, and soon stops paying rent. He then complains about unsavory living conditions that, landlords say, he created. At some point, his attack escalates and conditions in the rented apartment or house worsen, lawyers and landlords say. Newton continues to complain. Next, lawyers and landlords say, he calls code enforcement and accuses landlords of renting substandard housing. . . . From there, the legal battle is on.

December 2010


The 25-Year 'Foreclosure From Hell'

By Robbie Whelan, Wall Street Journal  

12-04-10 -- Patsy Campbell could tell you a thing or two about fighting foreclosure. She's been fighting hers for 25 years. . . . The 71-year-old retired insurance saleswoman has been living in her house, a two-story on a half acre in a tidy middle-class neighborhood here in central Florida, since 1978. The last time she made a mortgage payment was October 1985. . . . And yet Ms. Campbell has been able to keep her house, protected by a 105-pound pit bull named Dodger and a locked, rusty gate advising visitors to beware of the dog. . . . "They're not going to take this house," says Ms. Campbell. "I intend to stay in this house and maintain it as my residence until I die." . . . Ms. Campbell's foreclosure case has outlasted two marriages, three recessions and four presidents. She has seen seven great-grandchildren born, plum real-estate markets come and go and the ownership of her mortgage change six times. Many Florida real-estate lawyers say it is the longest-lasting foreclosure case they have ever heard of. . . . The story of how Ms. Campbell has managed to avoid both paying her mortgage and losing her home, which is currently assessed at more than $203,000, is a cautionary tale for lenders that cut corners and followed sloppy practices when originating, processing and servicing mortgages. Lenders are especially vulnerable in the 23 states, including Florida, that require foreclosures to be approved by a judge.

Lose the lawyer: How to handle it yourself and save

Jean , New York Daily News

101 Law Forms for Personal Use

Nolo is a Victimsof-Law Associate

12-06-10 -- Should you be your own lawyer? It's not just a hypothetical question for many Americans these days. . . . The number of people representing themselves rose last year, said 60% of judges in a recent survey by the American Bar Association, likely because of the recession. But the same number said not having someone by your side in court would be a mistake. . . . If you're not sure, contact a lawyer. Most will offer you a free initial consultation. If you do a little research about your situation ahead of time, you can probably get a grasp on your best move during that initial meeting. . . . The lesson: Aside from Small Claims Court, you don't want to go to court without a lawyer. But there are cases when you can forgo a pricey attorney and do the work yourself. . . . "A lot of legal matters are really just paperwork. These are things that are usually not terribly complicated, and the road is pretty well-plowed — there are forms that you can follow safely," said Mary Randolph, publisher of Nolo, which sells legal forms.

The Unrepresented:
Playing Into The Insurance Companies Hands

Mike Bryant, Attorney,

12-06-10 -- The economy has created a increase in Pro Se litigants. The Minnesota courts have been seeing the raise and all of the issues that come with people representing themselves. When asked, the usual answer has been the cost in hiring a lawyer is beyond what people can afford. . . . Injuryboard member David Mittleman has addressed the advantages that hiring a personal injury attorney on a contingent fee involves with : Comfort In Contingency. Basically, we only get paid if we are successful. . . . But further research has indicated that in the age of Deny, Delay and Defend, the insurance companies are in most cases better off if you go it alone in dealing with your personal injury claim. A couple of them have been found to go out of their way to convince people to try to go it alone. They pay less in benefits and they minimize claims overall.

October 2010


Commodity Futures Trading Commission judge says colleague biased against complainants

By David S. Hilzenrath, Washington Post Staff Writer

10-19-10 -- As George H. Painter was preparing to retire recently as one of two administrative law judges presiding over investor complaints at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, he issued an extraordinary request: . . . Please don't assign my pending cases to the other judge. . . . In a notice recently released by the CFTC, Painter said Judge Bruce Levine, his longtime colleague, had a secret agreement with a former Republican chairwoman of the agency to stand in the way of investors filing complaints with the agency. . . . "On Judge Levine's first week on the job, nearly twenty years ago, he came into my office and stated that he had promised Wendy Gramm, then Chairwoman of the Commission, that we would never rule in a complainant's favor," Painter wrote. "A review of his rulings will confirm that he fulfilled his vow," Painter wrote. . . . Painter continued: "Judge Levine, in the cynical guise of enforcing the rules, forces pro se complainants to run a hostile procedural gauntlet until they lose hope, and either withdraw their complaint or settle for a pittance, regardless of the merits of the case."

August 2010


Pro Se Inmate Scores 7th Circuit Win, Says His Own Lawyer Was Targeted by the Feds, Too

By Martha Neil, ABA Journal

08-17-10 -- A pro se prison inmate has notched a federal appeals court victory in a drug and weapons case, winning a ruling from the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that a trial judge erred by not looking more carefully at a claimed conflict of interest on the part of his defense attorney. . . . Attorney Andrea Gambino never disclosed to him that she, too, was being investigated by federal prosecutors at the time that she defended him in the Northern District of Illinois case, contends Fabian Lafuente. While it is not absolutely established that this allegation is true, sufficient factual support for the contention is provided by Lafuente in his motion to require further investigation by a federal district court on remand, a three-judge appellate panel held in a opinion (PDF) Friday.


Family Judge's Rant at Pro Se Litigant Draws Ethics Charges

Charles Toutant, New Jersey Law Journal

08-10-10 -- Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Max Baker has been hit with ethics charges for allegedly launching into a tirade against an unrepresented family court litigant who complained about a child-visitation schedule he ordered. . . . The heated invective called into question Baker's ability to remain impartial, Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct counsel Candace Moody alleged in a complaint made public Friday. . . . The outburst allegedly took place during a hearing last Dec. 31 on cross-complaints for restraining orders brought by Michael and Dana Pilla, both of whom were pro se. After granting Dana's request for an adjournment to obtain counsel, Baker inquired about the couple's minor child and visitation.


Judge lacks First Amendment right to insult litigants

First Amendment Watch

By David L. Hudson Jr., First Amendment scholar 

08-10-10 -- A judge has no First Amendment right to belittle and berate litigants in her courtroom, the Washington Supreme Court ruled in ordering that a state district judge be suspended for five days without pay. . . . Numerous complaints had been filed against Judith Raub Eiler, a King County district judge since 1992. The complaints centered on her treatment of pro se litigants (individuals who represent themselves without the services of an attorney). The bulk of Eiler’s caseload consisted of traffic offenses. . . . The Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct investigated numerous complaints about Eiler’s treatment of litigants in 2008. The commission identified 15 cases of misconduct by Eiler and determined that she had violated several canons of judicial ethics. ****** The state supreme court rejected this First Amendment defense in its Aug. 5 opinion in In the Matter of Eiler, writing that “judges do not have a right to use rude, demeaning, and condescending speech toward litigants.”

July 2010


Judges Say Litigants Are Increasingly Going Pro Se
at Their Own Peril

By Terry Carter, ABA Journal

07-12-10 -- A survey of nearly 1,200 state trial judges around the country indicates that the weak economy has increased the number of litigants representing themselves in foreclosures, domestic relations, consumer issues and non-foreclosure housing matters; and the judges say litigants are doing a poor job as well as burdening courts already hurt by cutbacks. . . . A preliminary report on the survey, conducted by the ABA Coalition for Justice, was announced today by ABA President Carolyn B. Lamm at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. . . . “The areas of impact are pretty obvious,” Lamm said, introducing the Report on the Survey of Judges on the Impact of the Economic Downturn on Representation in the Courts (PDF). . . . More than half the judges saw case filings increase in 2009 and 60 percent of them say fewer people are represented by counsel. The greatest increase is in foreclosures, followed by domestic relations, consumer cases and other housing matters. . . . "This includes not only the poor but the middle class because it is not only a falling in Legal Services Corporation funding, but also because middle-class people are unable to spend to retain lawyers,” Lamm said.


Going It Alone In Connecticut Courts

By Alaine Griffin,

07-11-10 -- Pam Drummond left a Hartford courtroom carrying a folder full of papers she needed to file to begin the process of divorcing her husband — a legal move she planned to tackle on her own. . . . "If I could afford an attorney, I wouldn't be taking this on myself," Drummond, 49, said as she maneuvered her way through the crowded halls of the courthouse. "Dealing with the emotional side of something like this is one thing, and then to come here and deal with all of this? You really lose all hope." . . . Faced with unemployment and high legal costs, Drummond finds herself among the growing ranks of Connecticut residents representing themselves in legal matters these days, litigants forced to take a homespun approach to lawyering. Difficult as that might be, Drummond and others like her are, with the help of various legal resources, going before judges on their own. . . . State Supreme Court Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers addressed the issue head-on during an April lecture she gave at the University of Hartford. She cited a staggering statistic: The number of self-represented parties in civil cases in Connecticut has increased by 112 percent since 2005. . . . "There was a time when your decision to represent yourself was rare. Let me assure, that's not the case anymore," Rogers said. . . . In 2005, there were 12,356 self-represented parties in civil cases in Connecticut. By 2009, Rogers said, that number climbed to 26,252.


Nonlawyer at 9th Circuit Beats Toyota on Trademark Law

Cheryl Miller, The Recorder

07-09-10 -- A pro se litigant took on Toyota and won Thursday when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that her family business's domain names, and, did not infringe on the auto giant's trademark. . . . The trial court's injunction barring Lisa and Farzad Tabari from using the word Lexus in their brokerage's website address was "plainly overbroad," Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote for the majority. . . . "It prohibits domain names that on their face dispel any confusion as to sponsorship or endorsement," Kozinski wrote. "The Tabaris are prohibited from doing business at sites like and, although a reasonable consumer wouldn't believe Toyota sponsors the websites using those domains."

Score One for the Little Guy:
Pro Se
Defendants Beat Toyota in 9th Circuit

Posted by Eric Lipman, Legal Blog Watch

07-09-10 -- Here's a heart-warming story to start off your Friday. A couple of auto brokers from Mission Viejo, Calif., decided to fight a trademark battle with Toyota, sans attorney, and won. . . . As reported in today's Recorder, Lisa and Farzad Tabari initially hired a lawyer when they were slapped with a cease-and-desist from the Japanese auto giant insisting that they stop conducting business using URLs and But when the bills started coming in fast and furious, they decided to go it alone. . . . After a district court found that their use of those domain names infringed Toyota's trademarks, the Tabaris appealed, and Lisa argued the appeal before a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit. The Tabaris were vindicated in an opinion (.pdf) by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski.

A Victims-of-Law Associate

June 2010


After Surprise Victory, Lawsuit Is Dropped and $1 Is Awarded

By A. G. Sulzberger, New York Times (blog)

Unbelievable that a pro se would give up after winning!!!

06-09-10 -- The case of Velma Craig against the City of New York appeared to represent a rare win for the often hopelessly outmatched amateurs who represent themselves in court against experienced lawyers. . . . Ms. Craig, a former school safety officer, had filed a long-shot lawsuit, without the help of a lawyer, after being suspended from her job for refusing to accept a new employee identification card issued by the Police Department because she feared that it carried the “mark of the beast.” . . . In 2007, she was granted a surprising victory by a federal judge without even needing to take the case to trial. . . . All that was left to be determined was how much the city owed her for failing to accommodate her religious beliefs. . . . But on Wednesday, Ms. Craig stunned the courtroom by dropping her lawsuit, just as the trial to determine the damages she was owed was set to begin. It’s as if Ms. Craig picked up a lottery ticket with guaranteed winnings and then tossed it aside without ever scratching it off to reveal the cash prize. . . . Instead, Judge Roslynn R. Mauskopf of United States District Court in Brooklyn, bowing to Ms. Craig’s desire not to proceed, granted a nominal award of $1. . . . At the hearing Ms. Craig said that she didn’t want to proceed unless she had a court-appointed lawyer, explaining, “I do not have the professional insight to really know the law here.” . . . The problem was that Ms. Craig had already cut ties with her previous lawyer, who was appointed by the court to help her with the damages portion of the case, with the explicit warning from the judge that she would have to either hire another lawyer herself or represent herself at trial.

May 2010


Writing Bad Briefs: How to Lose Your Case, and Lose Big

Posted by Bruce Carton, Legal Blog Watch         

05-28-10 -- Judge Gerald Lebovits is the author of an amusing and insightful article in this month's New York State Bar Association Journal entitled, "Writing Bad Briefs: How to Lose a Case in 100 Pages or More." (via the (new) legal writer blog). Lebovits, a judge of the New York City Civil Court, Housing Part, in Manhattan, and an adjunct professor at Columbia Law School and St. John’s University School of Law, opens by promising that "[w]riting a really bad brief -- a brief so bad you’re sure to lose your case -- is a skill few attorneys acquire ... The reasons you might want to lose are many, and writing a bad brief is a key to losing. For those lawyers who want to lose -- and lose big -- this column’s for you." . . . Judge Lebovits then delivers on this promise, providing a detailed list of ways that litigators can be sure to lose their case via a horrid brief. Some of my favorites include: / Have a bad cover: Add a border, "preferably with a seasonal motif. Flowers and snowflakes add a great touch. If the court has specific requirements about how the cover should look, ignore those rules. Judges have little sense of style anyway." Also, make sure to "use a typeface like Old English Text or any other font that looks like hieroglyphics" for your caption. . . . Style: Try different color ink, like baby blue or pink. "Black ink signals professionalism. Don’t use it, unless you want to win." Avoid the use of page numbers. Judges should know how to count, right? And don’t bind your brief, to increase the odds of pages getting lost. If you must bind it, use a metal clip with razorsharp edges. / Judge Lebovits offers much more in his article, which can be read in its entirety here. Good stuff.


DC Circuit Dismisses ‘Pants Suit’ Ex-Judge’s Job-Loss Appeal

By Sarah Randag, ABA Journal

05-27-10 -- A former Washington, D.C., administrative law judge who lost that job after unsuccessfully suing a dry cleaners for millions over a lost pair of pants has now had his lawsuit protesting his firing dismissed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. . . . Pearson, who brought the case pro se, never got his day in court before the D.C. Circuit, the Blog of Legal Times reports. The panel canceled oral argument, basing its ruling on the briefs. . . . Pearson contended in the suit that he was denied reappointment to his position in late 2007 because he complained about the D.C. Office of Administrative Hearings' peer review system. / Ruling is at this link.


6th Circuit Reinstates Ex-Inmate’s Pro Se Suit Over Lack of Toothpaste

By Martha Neil, ABA Journal

05-07-10 -- Jerry Flanory doesn't have a lawyer—yet. But after scoring a pro se civil rights victory in federal appellate court in Detroit yesterday that could soon change. . . . The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated Flanory's constitutional case against officials of the Michigan prison at which he formerly served time for assault, finding that his allegations of being denied toothpaste for nearly a year adequately state a claim for cruel and unusual punishment, reports the Associated Press. . . . "This court has found dental health to be of great importance," a three-judge panel said in a written opinion, reversing a federal district court's determination that the case was frivolous. Being without "toothpaste for 337 days and resulting health problems amount to more than a mere inconvenience or a harmless deprivation of hygiene products." . . . Leagle provides a copy of the court's written opinion (PDF).


Virginia Law Student Wins 4th Circuit Appeal for Inmate
Dean Razavi became involved in the case through the law school's Appellate Litigation Clinic

05-05-10 -- Dean Razavi, 24, may not graduate from law school for another two weeks, but he is already one-for-one at the federal appellate level. . . . On Friday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a federal inmate who appealed a 15-year sentence on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel. Razavi, a third-year student at the University of Virginia School of Law, represented inmate Nicholas Omar Tucker at oral argument. . . . Tucker had filed his appeal pro se, but his case was picked up by the law school's Appellate Litigation Clinic. Razavi is one of six students who participated in the clinic this year. He and third-year law student Ellen Valentine got the Tucker case in September. Along with Razavi and Valentine, Neal Walters, who runs the clinic, signed the brief.


NYCLA Approves Ghostwriting Papers for Pro Se Litigants

Daniel Wise, New York Law Journal

05-04-10 -- The New York County Lawyers' Association has issued an ethics opinion approving the practice of lawyers ghostwriting court papers for pro se litigants as permitted under the state's 2009 Rules of Professional Conduct. Allowing lawyers to prepare papers for pro se litigants without disclosing their involvement to either the court or adversaries is permitted under Rule 1.2, which allows lawyers to take on clients under retainers that reasonably limit the scope of their representation, NYCLA's Committee on Professional Ethics concluded in Opinion 742, issued April 16. . . . Disclosure of a lawyers' involvement, the opinion stated, might result in lawyers having to expand their commitment beyond the bounds of a "limited scope" retainer with the result that clients would be "forced to spend more money than [they] have or lawyers would end up work[ing] free of charge." Either way, the result would undercut the goal of increasing access to justice for those unable to pay for the full services of a lawyer.


February 2010


California Association of Legal Document Assistants (CALDA) Spearheads Efforts to Help Provide Legal Information to Consumers and Self-Help Litigants in California Courts

The Sacramento Family Law Self-Help Center is the latest to join the growing list of court facilities displaying and distributing informational brochures of the California Association of Legal Document Assistants (CALDA). The CALDA “LDA Referral Service” brochure, provided free to the public, answers common questions about LDAs , such as “Who are Legal Document Assistants?” and “How can a Legal Document Assistant Help You?” The brochure also features CALDA’s website:

02-19-10 -- The Sacramento Family Law Self-Help Center is the latest to join the growing list of court facilities displaying and distributing informational brochures of the California Association of Legal Document Assistants (CALDA).

The CALDA “LDA Referral Service” brochure, provided free to the public, answers common questions about LDAs , such as “Who are Legal Document Assistants?” and “How can a Legal Document Assistant Help You?” The brochure also features CALDA’s website, which lists registered and bonded LDAs by city, county, zip code, name, services and area code.

“The inclusion of the CALDA brochure as a referral from the courts is a milestone for CALDA and Legal Document Assistants,” said Angie Walters, who chairs CALDA’s Legislative Affairs Committee and was instrumental in placing the brochures at the Sacramento Family Law Self-Help Center. “We are extremely pleased that the court deems the CALDA brochure as a valuable tool of information for consumers and self-help litigants seeking affordable legal documents and forms preparation services.”

Other counties

In addition to Sacramento County, the brochures are also available in the courts and locations in the following counties: . . . Nevada County / - San Joaquin County / - San Luis Obispo County / - Alameda County (Hayward Law Library)

Another choice for self-litigants

“These brochures will no doubt increase the ability of our members to provide the self-litigant with an additional means to meet their legal needs,” said Marcel Neumann, CALDA president.

If you would like to request copies of the brochure, email Marcel Neumann at Include your name and/or business name, address and your county. The brochure may also be downloaded from the CALDA website:

About Legal Document Assistants

Legal Document Assistants were once commonly known as Independent Paralegals. An LDA is an experienced professional who is authorized to prepare legal documents for a client, LDAs are not attorneys and they can only provide self-help services at their client's specific directions. In other words, an LDA is there to assist the "self-litigant" handle their own legal matters. Unlike Paralegals who must work directly for an attorney, LDA’s can work with or without an attorney and are registered and bonded legal professionals who are authorized to prepare legal documents and provide self-help services to the general public. <MORE>


Pending Malpractice Suit Against Firm Doesn't Excuse Paying Fees, N.J. Court Rules

Mary Pat Gallagher, New Jersey Law Journal

02-10-10 -- A family court order requiring a divorce litigant to pay Budd Larner $50,000 in legal fees, even though he had a malpractice case pending against the firm, has been upheld on appeal. . . . The New Jersey Appellate Division ruled on Monday that there was no error in ordering and enforcing the fee award to the Short Hills, N.J., firm, because the client neither asked the family court for a stay nor sought to consolidate the malpractice and matrimonial cases. . . . The court, in Cole v. Cole, A-1710, also found it significant that the court below "expressly carved out the malpractice issue from its decision, and made no findings on those allegations."


A Mediocre Criminal, but an Unmatched Jailhouse Lawyer

Sidebar / Adam Liptak, New York Times

02-08-10 -- Shon R. Hopwood was not a particularly sophisticated bank robber. . . . “We would walk into a bank with firearms, tell people to get down, take the money and run,” he said the other day, recalling five robberies in rural Nebraska in 1997 and 1998 that yielded some $200,000 and more than a decade in federal prison. . . . Mr. Hopwood spent much of that time in the prison law library, and it turned out he was better at understanding the law than breaking it. He transformed himself into something rare at the top levels of the American bar, and unheard of behind bars — an accomplished Supreme Court practitioner. . . . He prepared his first petition for certiorari — a request that the Supreme Court hear a case — for a fellow inmate on a prison typewriter in 2002. Since Mr. Hopwood was not a lawyer, the only name on the brief was that of the other prisoner, John Fellers. . . . The court received 7,209 petitions that year from prisoners and others too poor to pay the filing fee, and it agreed to hear just eight of them. One was Fellers v. United States. . . . “It was probably one of the best cert. petitions I have ever read,” said Seth P. Waxman, a former United States solicitor general who has argued more than 50 cases in the Supreme Court. “It was just terrific.” . . . Mr. Waxman agreed to take the case on without payment. But he had one condition. . . . “I will represent you,” Mr. Waxman recalled telling Mr. Fellers, “if we can get this guy Shon Hopwood involved.” . . . Mr. Fellers said sure. “It made me feel good that we had Shon there to quarterback it,” Mr. Fellers said.

January 2010


Riffin: Not your average pro se litigant

By Danny Jacobs, Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer

01-31-10 -- James Riffin graduated from the University of Baltimore School of Law in 1975 and received a master’s in law from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1981. But he is not a practicing attorney, saying he got his legal degrees only to “protect his legal interests.” . . . He tends to speak in soliloquies that are dense with details and delivered in matter-of-fact tone, much like his legal filings. And like a lawyer questioning a witness, he primarily asks questions he already knows the answer to, and that answer is almost always designed to support his point. . . . Riffin’s legal background makes him atypical among pro se litigants, said Pamela C. Ortiz, executive director of the Maryland Access to Justice Commission, which is examining self-representation in the court system.


Pregnant Pro Se Mom Argued Treatment Case from Hospital Bed & Lost; Will Lawyer Win Appeal?

By Martha Neil, ABA Journal

01-26-10 -- Already the mother of two daughters, Samantha Burton had obtained prenatal care for her third pregnancy and voluntarily went to the hospital when she experienced symptoms she'd been told to look out for, in the hope of saving her baby, according to her lawyer. . . . When the 29-year-old questioned the medical advice and care she received there, however, and sought to leave, Tallahassee Memorial Hospital got a Florida judge to order her to submit to the treatment its doctors ordered, including bed rest at the facility, reports the Associated Press. Her stillborn baby was delivered by Caesarian section three days later. . . . Now, in a closely watched case that pits Burton's constitutional rights against those of her fetus, a Florida appeals court is mulling whether the state had the right to order her to submit to specific medical treatment, against her wishes and, at least arguably, without considering other viable options. Although a reversal would come too late, of course, to uphold Burton's claimed constitutional rights concerning the forced treatment at Florida Memorial Hospital, it would, she says through her lawyer, David Abrams, help prevent other women from going through a similar "horrible" experience that is still very upsetting to her, the AP reports. . . . The hospital and its doctors declined to comment. However, State Attorney Willie Meggs, who handled the case after the hospital reportedly brought the matter to his office, says the emergency situation--doctors feared a miscarriage--and the threat to the life of Burton's fetus justified the judge's decision, after a telephone hearing, that the best interest of her unborn child trumped Burton's constitutional rights to privacy and to refuse medical treatment. . . . Burton argued her case alone, unrepresented by counsel, from her hospital bed during the telephone conference call court hearing, reports the Tallahassee Democrat. The hospital's legal counsel, E. Murray Moore Jr., argued against her in the Leon County case, having been appointed a special assistant state attorney by Meggs for the purpose. . . . "This is good people trying to do things in a right fashion to save lives, whether some people want them saved or not," Meggs tells the AP, contending that there was no time to seek a second opinion. . . . Burton, represented by Abrams and backed by attorney Diana Kasdan, who is reportedly representing both the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Medical Women’s Association in the case, says the judge's ruling, if allowed to stand, creates a worrisome precedent. Her symptoms weren't all that unusual, she wasn't in labor, and there were a number of treatment options, including bed rest at home, that would have been appropriate for her and allowed her to take better care of her two daughters there, she and the lawyers contend.


Help on way for self-representing civil case litigants

By Canda Harbaugh, The Western News

01-13-09 -- An AmeriCorps volunteer will travel to Libby from Kalispell at least monthly, starting this coming Wednesday, to help guide self-representing litigants through civil legal matters. . . . Figuring out which forms to fill out, how to complete them correctly and where and when to submit them can be a daunting task for people new to the legal system, so as part of the Justice for Montanans Project, Nat Jacob will be available to help anyone, free of charge, with civil legal matters. . . . It is estimated that statewide at least one party in over half of every family law case, which includes divorce, child custody and orders of protection, is a self-represented litigant. . . . “The need is significant everywhere,” said Bonnie Olson, Flathead County’s district court administrator and Jacob’s site supervisor. “There’s a ton of people that don’t have the resources to pay for attorneys but they have legal needs.”

A Nation of Do-It-Yourself Lawyers

By John T. Broderick Jr. & Ronald M. George, Op-Ed Contributors The New York Times

01-01-10 -- AMERICA’S courts are built on a system of rules and procedures that assume that almost everyone who comes to court has a lawyer. Unfortunately, the reality is quite different. An increasing number of civil cases go forward without lawyers. Litigants who cannot afford a lawyer, and either do not qualify for legal aid or are unable to have a lawyer assigned to them because of dwindling budgets, are on their own — pro se. What’s more, they’re often on their own in cases involving life-altering situations like divorce, child custody and loss of shelter. . . . As the economy has worsened, the ranks of the self-represented poor have expanded. In a recent informal study conducted by the Self-Represented Litigation Network, about half the judges who responded reported a greater number of pro se litigants as a result of the economic crisis. Unrepresented litigants now also include many in the middle class and small-business owners who unexpectedly find themselves in distress and without sufficient resources to pay for the legal assistance they need. . . . As judges, we believe more needs to be done to meet this growing challenge: an inaccessible, overburdened justice system serves none of us well. California took a major step forward in October when it became the first state to recognize as a goal the right to counsel in certain civil cases. (The state also committed to a pilot project, financed by court fees, to provide lawyers for low-income citizens in cases where basic human needs are at stake.)

December 2009


New York Attorney Loses Judicial Misconduct Case

By Sonya Angelica Diehn, Courthouse News Service

12-2-09 -- The 3rd Circuit closed the door on a New York attorney's judicial misconduct claims, ending more than two years of litigation against four New Jersey Superior Court judges and the state Supreme Court. . . .  Eleanor Capogrosso had claimed that the four judges violated her rights when she was a litigant in tenancy disputes in 2001. . . . One Superior Court judge allegedly saw Capogrosso in the hallway with her attorney and went into the chamber of the judge she was about to appear in front of, who subsequently denied Capogrosso's motion. Such motions were routinely granted, according to Capogrosso's attorney at the time. . . . The 3rd Circuit upheld dismissal of Capogrosso's 21-claim lawsuit against the judges and the Advisory Committee on Judicial Misconduct, writing that she had failed to supply any factual basis for judicial conspiracy or state constitution violations.

A Victims-of-Law Advertiser

November 2009


Judge Blasts Bank's Foreclosure Conduct and Cancels Mortgage

Vesselin Mitev, New York Law Journal

11-24-09 -- A lender's "unconscionable, vexatious and opprobrious" conduct in attempting to foreclose on a Long Island home has prompted a state judge to cancel the mortgage on the property. . . . IndyMac Bank v. Yano-Horoski, 2005-17926, came before Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey A. Spinner as the result of a state law mandating pre-foreclosure settlement conferences between lenders and borrowers of subprime, or high-cost, home loans. . . . The case was decided with the county facing what the judge characterized as "the yawning abyss of a deep mortgage and housing crisis with foreclosure filings at a record high rate and a corresponding paucity of emergency housing." . . . Spinner acknowledged that foreclosure is sometimes inevitable and proper, but he noted that a "plethora" of subprime mortgages had been successfully modified in the county's foreclosure part. And he said that he found it "deeply troubling" that the bank had spurned what would have been a "win-win" solution for all parties. . . . Instead of negotiating, he said that the bank had engaged in "harsh, repugnant, shocking and repulsive" treatment of the homeowner, Dana Yano-Horoski. . . . Yano-Horoski, appearing pro se, requested a conference in February to seek a deal with IndyMac Bank on the $292,500 mortgage she took out in August 2004 on her East Patchogue home.


Google Offers Legal Research for the Average Citizen—and Lawyers, Too

By Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal

11-18-09 -- Google has announced it is adding a new search function that will find full-text legal opinions from federal and state courts. . . . Users can go to the Google Scholar online search engine and type in case names, topics or key words to find the relevant cases. “We think this addition to Google Scholar will empower the average citizen by helping everyone learn more about the laws that govern us all,” Google says in an announcement posted at TaxProf Blog. . . . Researchers can try an “advanced scholar” search link that narrows searches to opinions in specific states, according to the Supreme Court of Texas Blog. Users can also specify whether they want to search for “all of the words,” an exact phrase, or at least one of the words. They can also add date and author restrictions.


Judge Bans Pro Se Defendant from His Own Trial

By Martha Neil, ABA Journal

11-18-09 -- After Isiah Williams repeatedly complained about his lawyers, a New York state judge said he could represent himself. . . . But when Williams continued to be too disruptive, Monroe County Court Judge John Connell banned him from the courtroom. Nonetheless, his trial on multiple forgery, grand larceny and identity theft charges concerning alleged forged checks is ongoing, reports the Roc Now blog of the Democrat and Chronicle.

October 2009


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10,000 Members in Under 10 Months


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Court Offers No Mulligan To Disbarred Lawyer

Attorney accused of sex crimes wanted to retract his guilty pleas

By Douglas S. Malan, Connecticut Law Tribune  

VoL Commentary

A Pro Se Criminal Defense Attorney  pleads guilty & claims he didn't understand the charges????

10-12-09 -- At some point in a span of 46 days, now-disbarred criminal defense attorney Kweku Hanson had some serious regrets about what he told the court. . . . On Aug. 2, 2007, he appeared in court as a pro se defendant and pleaded guilty to various criminal charges stemming from sexual relationships he had with two girls, ages 14 and 15. On Sept. 17, 2007, prior to his sentencing, he wanted to withdraw his guilty pleas. . . . Hanson claimed, in part, that he didn’t understand the criminal charges lodged against him and the court had failed to adequately apprise him of the sentencing range related to those charges during a process known as plea canvassing. . . . The trial court judge denied his motion orally, and last week, the Appellate Court officially released a written opinion that upheld the decision. . . . “There is nothing in the record to indicate that the defendant’s pleas were the result of a defective canvass,” states the Appellate Court opinion in State v. Hanson, written by Judge Trial Referee Socrates H. Mihalakos. . . . The opinion gives rise to a question of whether courts generally have a higher standard for lawyers who appear before them as pro se defendants.


More of state's poor may soon get public defender

Eligibility criteria for accused have not changed since 1987

By Bruce Vielmetti of the Journal Sentinel Posted: Oct. 11, 2009

10-11-09 -- Seven years after a Journal Sentinel investigation revealed how outdated eligibility criteria prevent hundreds of poor residents charged with crimes from getting a public lawyer, those same 1987 standards remain in effect. . . . The criteria essentially say that anyone earning $7.25 an hour, with a $2,000 car and $300 cash isn't poor enough for a public defender. The paper's 2002 series "Unequal Justice" examined hundreds of cases in which defendants were denied a public defender and found dozens who were forced to defend themselves, including the nearly illiterate, a mentally impaired senior and a first-time defendant who thought the prosecutor was his lawyer. . . . Everyone in the criminal justice system agreed in 2002 that the practice violates the U.S. Constitution and often leads to injustice. But year after year, legislative attempts to change the standards have failed.


Court Tosses $400,000 Attorney Fee Award as Arbitrary

By a MetNews Staff Writer

VoL Commentary

A Pro Se Attorney-at-law  cannot charge legal fees in his own case.

10-7-09 -- The Sixth District Court of Appeal yesterday ordered reconsideration of an attorney fee and cost award representing less than one third of the $1.3 million requested by a San Jose lawyer and his wife in their action against their former general contractor. . . . In a 71-page ruling by Presiding Justice Conrad L. Rushing, the appellate panel said it could not determine that the award by Santa Clara Superior Court Judge William J. Elfving was adequate. While a trial judge does not need to explain his or her decision on a motion for attorney fees and costs, the justice emphasized, the award “must be able to be rationalized to be affirmed on appeal.” . . . As Rushing said he was “unable to surmise any mathematical or logical explanation” for the judge’s award to John Gorman and Jennifer Cheng, the panel reversed. . . . Gorman is the chief executive officer, chief financial officer, president, and secretary of Gorman & Miller PC, a small business law firm with offices in San Jose and Santa Monica. . . . He and his wife contracted with the Tassajara Development Corporation in 1999 to build them a $1.5 million  house in Los Altos Hills. . . . After the couple took occupancy of the home, Gorman and his firm filed suit on behalf of himself and his wife alleging defective construction. . . . Nearly three years later, Gorman and his wife entered into a global settlement with Tassajara and several other defendants. The settlement agreement provided that Gorman and his wife were to be deemed prevailing parties in the action for the purpose of invoking their right to recover attorney fees and costs pursuant to the terms of the construction contract. . . . Gorman ultimately requested attorney fees of $1,350,538.83 and costs in excess of $266,561.96. Over half of the requested attorney fees were billed by Gorman personally. . . . After a contested hearing on their motion, which lasted less than an hour, Elfving issued a 27-word order awarding “reasonable attorneys’ fees of $416,581.37 and reasonable costs of $142,432.46.”


County Law Library Now Open To Public

10-4-09 -- The Chautauqua County Law Library located in the Gerace Office Building is now open for the community's use. . . . Legal information that is available in the library includes case law, statutes and secondary source material with regard to state law. Materials are provided in print as well as online formats. . . . The public access computer located in the library is available on a first-come, first-served basis. It is equipped with LEXIS, an automated legal research system which provides case, statutory and regulatory laws at both the federal and state level. . . . The service is available free of charge to library patrons including local attorneys, students and self-represented litigants. . . . The library was temporarily closed duringthe recent building renovation project. It is located in the sub-basement of the Gerace Office Building, 3 N. Erie St., Mayville, and is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. . . . For more information, contact the Supreme and County Court Chief Clerk's Office at 753-4266.

September 2009


2nd Circuit Faults Judge for Failing to Explain Motion
to Pro Se Litigant

Mark Hamblett, New York Law Journal

9-28-09 -- A pro se prisoner litigant is excused for failing to answer a motion for summary judgment because he was not given enough notice of procedural requirements by the court, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled. . . . Reviving the lawsuit of Jose Hernandez against corrections officers who allegedly beat him, the circuit said Hernandez should have been informed by the judge of the consequences of converting a motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment. . . . The case of Hernandez v. Coffey, 06-4246-pr, was the latest in which the circuit has insisted that lower courts not be sticklers for regular procedure when it comes to motion practice by pro se litigants.


Alliance of Legal Document Assistant Professionals Successfully Pushes for Legislative Amendment that Protects Consumers, Self-Help Legal Service Providers

Alliance of Legal Document Assistant Professionals / Suzanne Ervine / 619-567-5176 / /

9-17-09 -- California’s proposed Assembly Bill 590 would have effectively outlawed many legal professionals who offer self-help services to consumers handling their own legal matters. . . . While the legislative intent was to make the courts more accessible to the self-represented litigants, increase the amount of pro bono legal assistance provided by attorneys, and protect consumers from fraudulent “legal aid” businesses, AB 590 contained strong prohibitions against the delivery of self-help legal services. These provisions went unnoticed for months – until the Alliance of Legal Document Assistant Professionals (ALDAP) “broke the story” a mere 10 days before the final deadline for legislative amendments. . . . Upon the discovery of the troubling language contained in the bill – which would have made it illegal to sell forms, documents or self-help services that are offered by a non-profit legal aid organization or court clinic – letters were sent and telephone calls were placed, expressing ALDAP’s concern regarding the negative impact this would have – not only on registered legal document assistants, but also attorneys who offer limited scope representation, immigration consultants, and self-help legal professionals who are regulated under federal law, such as bankruptcy petition preparers. . . . “When ALDAP mustered its legislative forces, we were not content to merely carve out a narrow exception for LDAs,” said Kathleen Mountjoy, a dual-professional paralegal and legal document assistant and president of the association. “ALDAP is deeply committed to big picture – balancing consumer protections with judicial access.” . . . “The Assembly Judiciary Committee’s response was swift and commendable,” said Mountjoy. “I received a call the very next day from the Deputy Chief Counsel. I was delighted to hear his assurances that the legislators ‘in no way meant to prohibit LDAs from doing the much necessary and good work’ that we do for consumers, and that the bill would be amended accordingly.”


When judges do wrong

Laura Lynn, LA Family Courts Examiner

9-11-09 -- Tony award winning actress, Tonya Pinkins (24, Army Wives) knows firsthand, that when judges do wrong, no one will defend you against them. Pinkins says, “I’ve had some amazing attorneys. But they’re extremely costly. When I’ve discovered judges stepping outside the bounds of law, no attorneys would touch that.” And with good reason; attorneys have to consider a career in front of a judge. One case can make a career and challenging a judge can end one. Naturally, self preservation prevails. . . . So Pinkins has taken on judges as a pro se or in pro per. “The court’s hate pro ses not just because we don’t know the rules but because this is our life and we have nothing to lose so we can’t be controlled the way attorneys can.” Pinkins has found the system to be resistant to siding with self represented persons over judges. . . . “I once had a judge refuse service. The processor hands him the document and he says 'I refuse it'. So I’m in the appellate court library and the calls have been made and they are expecting to the throw me out for lack of service. But I have the Judge served on the bench that morning. Well all hell breaks loose and the Appellate Judge denies my request anyway with no citation of law except a mere ‘It’s in one of those black books’." . . . But that didn’t stop Pinkins, who with the assistance of Monica Getz and The Coalition for Family Justice, urged that Judge Lewis R. Friedman be transferred from the Manhattan matrimonial part down to housing court. Oprah dubbed Pinkins one of the ten women in America who take your breath away for her work on behalf of pro se litigants. And she is at it again. This time she’s seeking the recusal of Los Angeles Superior Court Justice Donna Fields-Goldstein.


Free Web Access to Judicial Records Gladdens Public but Worries Some Courts

Mary Pat Gallagher, New Jersey Law Journal

9-2-09 -- Spell PACER backwards and you get RECAP, a no-cost alternative to the federal courts' electronic documents database. Its creator says the new service is "turning PACER around" with the goal of "build[ing] the nation's most comprehensive public archive of freely-available federal judicial records."

Though federal court officials are skittish about security, more than 7,000 downloads have been made since Princeton University's Center for Information Technology launched the site,, on Aug. 14. . . . Documents in RECAP's database are available at no cost, in contrast to the eight cents per page charged by PACER. Free court records are available elsewhere online at Web sites like and, but what sets RECAP apart is that it is self-populating. Any document accessed through PACER (short for Public Access to Court Electronic Records) is uploaded automatically to RECAP's online archive.

August 2009


You be the judge: A prayer for relief from court sanctioned child abuse

LA Family Courts Examiner Lynn

This is the last in a series of the text of a Petition for Writ of Mandate to change venue of a family law case and other relief. You may want to read parts one, two and three first.

8-30-09 -- The Petitioner has no expectation that justice will be done here. She asked for justice May 27, 2008 from this court, and this court denied her request summarily. The Court is acting criminally and is making a concerted effort to ruin the Petitioner emotionally, physically and economically. . . . The Petitioner is not trained in the law, yet she is held to a standard that is far higher than the standard of the Court itself. . . . I pray that the Court will reconsider its ruling of May 29, 2008 and see that Commissioner Alan Friedenthal should have been disqualified from presiding over this case from the start. . . . Criminal charges should be filed against the parties who altered, falsified, and destroyed court documents. Criminal charges should be filed against the officers of the Court who held these corruptions in their hand and did nothing to further the cause of justice. Criminal charges should be filed in Federal Court against the Officers of the Court who perverted justice.


DIY divorce cases get limited legal aid

By George Diepenbrock

8-17-09 -- Douglas County District Judge Jean Shepherd has seen people try to represent themselves in divorce cases. . . . And that, many times, creates difficulties. . . . Some people download legal forms they think they need from the Internet. However, the forms are typically from other states. . . . “They make no sense, and people really don’t know how to fill the forms out,” Shepherd said. “Judges cannot treat pro se litigants different than we treat the other litigants. As frustrating as it is, we can’t give them legal advice.” . . . And normally, attorneys must take on a client fully or not at all. . . . But help now is available. . . . People in Douglas County who want to represent themselves in divorce court — known as pro se litigants — can get aid from attorneys through a “limited representation” pilot program. Those attorneys might prepare documents or assist in part of the case. ********* The state committee studying the issue in 2010 will report back to the Kansas Supreme Court about how the pilot project worked. . . . In Douglas County, litigants in court can get a list of attorneys who are trained for limited representation and information about the pilot project. . . . “People can then come into court without an attorney, but at least they will have service on the other side,” Shepherd said. . . . The list is also available through the Clerk of the District Court’s Web site, at


Into court alone, with help

Do-it-yourself litigants will get a hand from William Mitchell College of Law's new pro se clinic, which is opening next month at the college in St. Paul.

By Dee DePass, Star Tribune

8-12-09 -- A new clinic is coming to St. Paul's Summit Avenue. But this clinic will be treating economic, rather than medical maladies. . . . The new Law Library Pro Se Clinic is sponsored by William Mitchell College of Law and aimed at struggling do-it-yourselfers who are trying to navigate the legal maze of the court system without an attorney. The clinic is scheduled to open in September. . . . "This economy is forcing more people to represent themselves. It's an interesting trend," said Steve Linders, the law school's assistant marketing director. "We have a public law library and we are seeing a significant increase in the number of people coming in because they are going pro se when they are go to court, especially family court." . . . Men have come in who wish to handle their own divorces. Mothers and fathers have used the library to collect legal facts for custody battles. With layoffs and cuts to pay and health insurance, many citizens find they can't afford an attorney, so they struggle on to court alone. While the law guarantees criminal defendants an attorney at no charge, civil litigants are on their own.


Litigants become their own lawyers

Hiring an attorney isn't cheap, so these days more people are navigating the justice system themselves. But courtrooms can be tough for amateurs.

By John Keilman, The Los Angeles Times

8-10-09 -- Reporting from Chicago -- When Marsha and Larry Lipsky wanted to evict a troublesome tenant from their home in Arlington Heights, Ill., they consulted a few attorneys but couldn't afford fees that ran from $500 to $5,000. . . . So they did what a lot of people with legal trouble are doing these days: They became their own lawyers. . . . "I was a nervous wreck," Marsha Lipsky, 67, said after presenting her case to a judge and winning an order for the tenant to leave. . . . Legal service has never come cheap. But lawyers, judges and other experts say that for many people, the recession has made it a nearly impossible expense. So more litigants are navigating the often-bewildering justice system by themselves. . . . Advocates and court officials have responded with expanded advice desks, instructional websites, even plans to connect litigants with law students by computer. But the trend still alarms many observers, who say courtrooms weren't made for amateurs. . . . "In a complex domestic-relations dispute or commercial dispute, it's kind of like trying to do surgery on yourself," said Bob Glaves of the Chicago Bar Foundation, which funds numerous legal assistance programs. "If you're not trained in these things, you have no chance." . . . Anyone facing jail time for a criminal offense is guaranteed legal help, but that is not true for civil cases, which include foreclosures and lawsuits over unpaid credit card bills.


Taking A Slingshot To Microsoft

One-man computer shop survives dispute with software giant

By Douglas S. Malan, Connecticut Law Tribune

8-3-09 -- As far as Kent Johnson is concerned, at least one Goliath has been subdued. . . . The owner of a small computer repair shop in Torrington has been going toe-to-toe with Microsoft after the software giant accused Johnson last year of selling pirated software and infringing on the company’s copyrights and trademarks. . . . . Johnson’s business, Compatible Computers, was named in one of 20 similar lawsuits filed throughout the country last October. . . . Now after nine months, the case has settled for an undisclosed amount, and Johnson is feeling like the little guy with the accurate slingshot. . . . “They had 15 people working on the case, and they spent a lot more money than I did,” said Johnson, who faced Microsoft as a pro se defendant. Though the settlement agreement prohibits him from discussing its details, he said, “I’m very happy with it. I never admitted any wrongdoing.” . . . The Shelton law firm of Roche Pia served as local counsel for Microsoft, which filed the lawsuit in federal court in Hartford. Attorney Brian Roche declined comment on the case, citing the confidentiality clause in the settlement agreement.

July 2009


Armstrong County Court of Common Pleas now has a Web site

By Renatta Signorini, Leader Times

7-25-09 -- The court system can be confusing to navigate, but Judge Kenneth Valasek hopes a new Web site will provide pertinent information to Armstrong County defendants and lawyers. . . . The site went "live" Friday and offers downloadable documents, such as a guilty plea questionnaire and applications for the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program, work release and electronic monitoring. . . . "This is a big step in making the court more accessible to both lawyers and the public," Valasek said. . . . A "wealth of information" exists on the site, he said, including rules, basic information and a court calendar. . . . An informational handbook for self-represented litigants created by Valasek is available for free download on the site. The handbook shares basic information about various types of court proceedings and how to communicate with a judge. The handbook is available for $3 at the prothonotary's office. . . . Helping self-represented litigants in a national trend, Valasek said, as more defendants opt to make their way through the courts without a lawyer. . . . Tony Arduini of the county information technology department worked on the site for about four months. All of the information was produced by Valasek, Arduini said.


Connecticut Family Law Attorney Susan Wakefield Introduces 'Legal Coaching' for the Do-It-Yourself Divorce in Connecticut

A large segment of the population needing legal services in their do-it-yourself divorce in Connecticut, or any other type of family law matter, are left without anyone to turn to for guidance, or so they think. Residents throughout Connecticut facing divorce, post divorce or any type of family law matter that needs to be addressed, or anyone in the midst of any type of family law action in Connecticut, can now turn to Attorney Susan Wakefield for specialized, expert and compassionate Legal Coaching assistance.


7-23-09 -- Attorney Wakefield has been practicing Family Law in Connecticut for over 21 years and has carved out a brand new niche to support parties with a do-it-yourself divorce in Connecticut, or any other type of family law matter, called Legal Coaching. This legal service is specifically designed to support the "pro se" litigant (individuals entering the system unrepresented by an attorney). "It's a perfect fit, because you get the benefit of the lawyer without the high cost", says Wakefield," and "I really break down the process for my clients so it's not as scary". Wakefield helps her clients overcome the fears that often surround any type of divorce or family law action and she sits down with her clients to present them with the most realistic outcome and timelines. Wakefield provides her clients with the tools necessary to walk them through their process, step by step, empowering them with the knowledge and guidance necessary to enter the courthouse with the confidence to represent themselves, removing the fear and uncertainty that comes along with being a pro se party.


D.C. Lawyers Fight Pro Se Litigant's $13.86 Bill

Mike Scarcella, The National Law Journal

7-20-09 -- After pro se litigant Peter Atherton was victorious in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit this year, he submitted a bill of costs for $13.86 to cover making copies of court records. Lawyers for the D.C. attorney general's office say the city shouldn't pay. . . . Atherton, who argues government officials improperly dismissed him from a D.C. Superior Court grand jury, raised a number of issues on appeal that the D.C. Circuit dismissed. But the court kept in place the claim that Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Zachem and D.C. Superior Court jury officer Suzanne Bailey-Jones violated Atherton's right to due process (pdf). . . . The appeals court remanded the case to determine whether Zachem and Bailey-Jones are entitled to qualified immunity in a suit that alleges the defendants improperly removed Atherton from a grand jury in April 2001. A federal trial judge tossed the suit, finding Zachem and Bailey-Jones are protected by absolute immunity. The three-judge D.C. Circuit panel disagreed.


Courts Do-It-Yourself Resources for the Public

CNYLink from Eagle Newspapers staff reports

7-6-09 -- On Thursday, July 9 Deputy Chief Administrative Judge Fern Fisher will be in Syracuse to introduce new-web based resources for the public at an event beginning at 1 p.m. at the Onondaga County Criminal Courts Building, Jury Assembly Room at 505 South State St. These DIY (Do-It-Yourself) programs ask straight-forward questions to help users prepare individualized court forms and instructions. New Yorkers can access the programs from any computer through two Web sites: CourtHelp ( and LawHelpNY ( The three state-wide DIY programs are the Support Modification Petition Program for Family Court, the Small Estates Affidavit Program for Surrogate's Court, and the Adult Name Change Petition Program for Supreme Court. . .
Almost two million New Yorkers appear without lawyers in New York State courts each year. "These programs are part of our continuing effort to make the courts more accessible to the ever growing number of New Yorkers who are unable to afford an attorney," Justice Fisher said. . . . The New York State Unified Court System partnered with Legal Assistance of Western New York (LawNY), Legal Services NYC, LawHelp/NY, and Pro Bono Net in this project, which was funded by the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) and the State Justice Institute (SJI
). The Chicago-Kent College of Law provides the A2J Author (R) software used to create these programs, and the National Public Automated Documents Online (NPADO) Project of Pro Bono Net provides servers and Internet support.

June 2009


Judge Calls Frivolous Suits Against Attorneys a 'Disturbing Trend'

Mark Fass, New York Law Journal

6-29-09 -- A Staten Island, N.Y., judge has thrown out a small claims action over a broken furnace filed by the buyer of a house against the seller's attorney. . . . Civil Court Judge Philip P. Straniere (See Profile) commended the claimant for admitting that after he learned that the seller had moved out of state, he pursued the action against the seller's attorney pursuant to his own attorney's advice. His own attorney denies that claim. . . . The judge nonetheless dismissed the action and scheduled a hearing to determine the damages, if any, from the claimant's frivolous action. . . . "This is another case of what appears to be a disturbing trend of litigation being brought by persons suing attorneys who did not represent them for that attorney's proper representation of his or her client," Judge Straniere wrote in DeFelice v. Costagliola, 81/09. "The theory behind bringing these baseless legal actions being that owing to the small amount of money involved, the lawyer would pay the claim rather than engage in the cost of litigation." . . . Pro se claimant Joseph DeFelice purchased a house in Rossville, Staten Island, in December 2008 from seller Catherine Able, who was represented by solo-practitioner Jon Costagliola.


Accused Wallingford rapist questions victim

Prosecutor in Seattle rape: 'I can't help but believe he is getting off on terrorizing this woman again'

By Levi Pulkkinen, Seattlepi.Com Staff

6-23-09 -- She remembered his eyes and her fear. . . . First came his hands and the knife. Then his voice, threatening to end her life and those of her young children. The rape came later. . . . But, from the witness stand, she said it was Sankarandi Skanda's eyes caught in a bedroom mirror of her Wallingford home that frightened her most. . . . "As I look into his eyes, I see that he's just full of malicious intent," she told a King County jury. "It was scary, and I was more scared than I'd been since he had grabbed me." . . . Skanda's eyes followed her Monday, as he tried to watch her face as she took questions from Senior Deputy Prosecutor Julie Kays. Accused of raping the 35-year-old woman after breaking into her home in October, Skanda is representing himself against charges of first-degree rape, burglary and robbery. . . . The woman had to face her alleged attacker in court and recount her version of events before him. But because Skanda is acting as his own attorney, she also had to take questions from the man who she says violated her home and body.


High court rules defendants can lose right to have lawyer

By Boston Globe Staff

6-13-09 -- People have a fundamental right to have a lawyer when they go to criminal court, but they can forfeit that right if they threaten or attack their court-appointed counsel, the state's highest court has ruled. . . . The Supreme Judicial Court ruled Friday in the case of a man who threatened in a blood-smeared letter to "physicially assault, spit, kick, head butt, etc." his lawyer. The defendant, Mark Means, was ordered to represent himself at his September 2005 Plymouth Superior Court trial on charges of assault and being a habitual criminal, after a judge learned of the threats. . . . The SJC said that a defendant has a fundamental right to have a lawyer and that the right is "essential to individual liberty and security." But it also said the right, in certain cases, can be forfeited.


Unbundled legal services increasingly popular

by Correy E. Stephenson, Dolan Media Newswires

6-2-09 -- In an uncertain economy, lawyers are using unbundled legal services to expand their client base. . . . The practice of unbundling legal services, also known as limited scope representation, falls into three general categories: consultation, such as giving advice and direction; document preparation, sometimes referred to as ghostwriting; and limited representation in court. . . . The idea is that with a lawyer’s help, clients can “more effectively spend their litigation money,” explained M. Sue Talia, a private family law judge in Walnut Creek, Calif. and the author of Unbundling Your Divorce. . . .The increasing popularity of unbundled legal services can be attributed to a number of factors, Talia said, including the reality that “over the last 10 years, middle class individuals have basically been priced out of legal representation. They don’t qualify for legal aid and they can’t pay for full service.” . . . In addition, greater access to technology and the growing self-help movement have increased the number of people who don’t see the need to pay a lawyer as a gatekeeper to the legal system, she said.

May 2009


Inmate wants $1M from N.Y. lawyer

By Kelly Holleran -Monongalia Bureau

5-18-09 -- A West Virginia inmate is seeking $1 million from a New York lawyer who he says won't inform him of what happened to $12,000 police took from his car during a routine traffic stop. . . . Melvin Miller filed a federal lawsuit April 14 against John Della Ratta Law Office, blaming Ratta for not telling him what happened to his cash. . . . Miller claims he was arrested in 2006 after police stopped his vehicle and found $12,000 inside it. . . . After his arrest, Miller hired Ratta to represent him. The case against Miller eventually was dismissed because of illegal procedures the officers followed during Miller's arrest, the complaint says. . . . Miller asked Ratta what would happen to the $12,000 found in his car, and Ratta offered to represent Miller in exchange for his usual counsel fee of 20 percent, according to the complaint. . . . Miller says he agreed to the terms in hopes that he would get his money back. . . . About one month after Miller hired Ratta, the lawyer told Miller that he had turned down an offer from the district attorney to return some of Miller's money to him, the suit states.


Ethical questions in pro se cases

by Jack Zemlicka, Wisconsin Law Journal

5-15-9 -- If attorneys had their druthers, everyone would have legal representation when they came to court. . . . But the reality in a recession is more and more litigants are representing themselves, especially in family, probate and small claims cases. . . . In those situations, attorneys are often asked to consider not only the needs of their client, but those of the self-represented party. . . . The dynamic can raise both ethical and financial questions about how much time attorneys can afford to spend helping a pro se litigant, what they can say and who pays for that time? . . . “I am very cautious when explaining legal principles to an unrepresented person, simply because what I might say may be heard differently by that party and that can create all sorts of different problems,” said attorney Dean R. Dietrich, chair of the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Professional Ethics Committee.

April 2009

In a Downturn, More Act as Their Own Lawyers

By Jonathan D. Glater, New York Times

4-9-09 -- Elise Barros made her way to the front of the courtroom, convinced that the lawsuit against her was a mistake and would be quickly dismissed. . . . “I don’t understand why I’m even here,” said Ms. Barros, who was challenging a lender’s claim that she owed it more than $7,000. She had repaid the loan, she told the judge in state court in March. “I have proof — documents.” . . . What she did not have was a lawyer. . . . So the judge sent her and the lender’s lawyer into a mediation session, where it became clear that Ms. Barros actually did not have the documents, at least not the right ones. When the judge returned to her case later in the day, he ordered her to come back in three weeks, when the process would begin again. . . . Financially pressed people like Ms. Barros are representing themselves more and more in court, according to judges, lawyers and courthouse officials across the country, raising questions of how just the outcomes are and clogging courthouses already facing their own budget woes as clerks spend more time helping people unfamiliar with forms, filings and fees.

March 2009


Judges Agree: NY Lawyer Is a Pro Se Pest

New York Lawyer, By Noeleen Walder, New York Law Journal

3-20-09 -- An attorney with a "penchant for vexatious conduct" must continue to seek prior court approval before initiating further litigation on her own behalf, a state appeals court has ruled in Capogrosso v. Kansas. . . . Solo practitioner Eleanor Capogrosso filed a total of 16 lawsuits where she was named as party-plaintiff before Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Debra A. James put a halt to the "frivolous and repetitive actions."


Superior Court Opens Self-Help Legal Center in Pasadena Courthouse

By Sherri M. Okamoto, Staff Writer

3-12-09 -- The Los Angeles Superior Court yesterday celebrated the grand opening of its 12th self-help legal access center, located at the Pasadena Courthouse. . . . Northeast District Supervising Judge Candace J. Beason hailed the event as “a fabulous, fabulous occasion.” . . . Beason said she had been looking forward to the opening of the clinic—housed in what had been the courthouse’s law library, which was moved across the street to the public library—because, as a member of the bench, she had seen a “significant number of people with questions and misconceptions of the legal system.” . . . Neal S. Dudovitz, the executive director of Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles opined that “it’s been quite a journey” since the first self-help center opened at the Van Nuys courthouse in 2000. . . . Over the years, Dudovitz said the self-help centers have helped over 500,000 people, and assisted over 91,000 in the last year alone. . . . These clinics “are about core values of out democracy,” he insisted. “Everybody has to be able to walk through the doors of the courthouse, everybody has to be able to be heard…or our justice system will not survive.” . . . Los Angeles Superior Court Civil Supervising Judge Elihu M. Berle echoed Dudovitz’s concern and opined the Pasadena clinic “could not have come at a better time.” . . . Noting the “devastating effect of the economy on our community,” Berle suggested a growing number of people with legal problems do not qualify for legal aid, cannot afford an attorney, but still require assistance navigating the court system.


Military Judge's Release of Pleading by 9/11 Defendants Draws Criticism

By Peter Finn, Washington Post Staff Writer  

3-11-09 -- The decision by a military judge at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to order the release yesterday of a pleading by defendants accused of planning the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was criticized by defense counsel and civil liberties groups, who said the judge was defying President Obama's executive order to halt all military commissions. . . . Defense Department officials defended the judge's order to release the six-page filing from Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four co-defendants, saying that it was in compliance with Obama's order. . . . Shortly after taking office, Obama wrote that "all proceedings of military commissions to which charges have been referred but in which no judgment has been rendered . . . are halted" pending a government review of the cases of all detainees.

Accused 9/11 Suspects Declare Themselves 'Terrorists to the Bone'

By Jess Bravin The Wall Street Journal.

3-10-09 -- Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others accused in the Sept. 11, 2001, conspiracy called U.S. allegations "badges of honor" and declared themselves "terrorists to the bone" in a written statement slated for public release Tuesday. . . . The six-page statement, dated March 1, was filed with a military judge at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in response to nine charges filed by military prosecutors last year. Titled "The Islamic Response to the Government's Nine Accusations," the statement mocks American authorities for failing to foil the Sept. 11 plot and casts the U.S. as a terrorist aggressor whose own actions provoked the suicide hijackings that killed nearly 3,000 people. . . . The statement calls the conspiracy charge "laughable." . . . "Were you expecting us to inform you about our secret attack plans?" it says. "Blame yourselves and your failed intelligence apparatus and hold them accountable, not us." . . . "Also, as the prophet has stated: 'War is to deceive,'" it states, in one of several passages that assert religious sanction for al Qaeda attacks.

You can access the pro se filing titled "The Islamic Response to the Government's Nine Accusations" by clicking here.

February 2009


Ethics Opinion Defines NY Lawyers' Duties Toward Pro Se Adversaries

New York Lawyer, By Noeleen G. Walder, New York Law Journal

2-20-09 -- Confronting what it says has been a "sharp increase" in the number of people who come to court without an attorney, the New York City Bar Association is reminding lawyers that they have an ethical obligation to self-represented individuals adverse to their clients. . . . Moreover, the city bar's recently issued Formal Ethics Opinion 02-2009 stresses that "refraining from misleading or deceptive conduct" when dealing with self-represented litigants may not be enough to satisfy that obligation. . . . "For some self-represented persons, further action may be necessary," it advises.

January 2009

Rap brief hits right note with judges

Musician wins appeal with rhyme

By Ryan J. Foley, Associated Press

1-25-09 -- Justice might be blind, but apparently it has good rhythm. . . . A jazz musician who filed a legal brief in a child custody dispute with rap lyrics won his appeal and will get out of paying nearly $4,000 in fees. . . . Gregory Royal, 47, a trombone player who once lived in Onalaska, represented himself in a dispute with La Crosse County officials stemming from a divorce. . . . Royal, who is not an attorney, had filed a federal lawsuit against county officials who recommended that his two children spend most of their time with his ex-wife. That case was thrown out because the federal courts do not intervene in such domestic disputes. . . . One of the team members, a lawyer, then asked a circuit judge to order Royal to pay fees and costs for bringing that case. A judge agreed the lawsuit was frivolous and ordered Royal to pay $3,750. . . . Royal, who has since moved out of state, said he wanted to use creativity to convince the appeals court that he was being treated unfairly and shouldn't have to pay. He spent three days writing his brief in the form of rap, which he said can capture the essence of an argument with few words.

Related Document: PDF: Read court documents with the lyrics


Psychotic Defendant, Though Competent to Stand Trial, Can't Be His Own Lawyer

Henry Gottlieb, New Jersey Law Journal

1-15-09 -- Mentally ill criminal defendants who are found to be competent to stand trial don't automatically have the right to act as their own counsel, a New Jersey appeals court held Wednesday. . . . The ruling, made possible by a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that gives state courts discretion to decide such issues, upheld a trial judge who assigned a lawyer to represent an accused thief who proclaimed he was the acolyte of an ancient civilization's princess. . . . The trial judge ruled that Anthony McNeil was competent to assist in his defense and therefore could stand trial, but that didn't mean he was mentally sound enough to represent himself. With a lawyer representing him, he was found guilty and given a 10-year sentence. . . . He argued on appeal that he was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel of his choice: himself.


Pro Se Teen environmentalist confronts Pinellas County in court

By Theresa Blackwell, Times Staff Writer 

1-8-09 -- Mathew Poling sat quietly outside the door to Courtroom C of the Pinellas County Courthouse, surrounded by his family. . . . "I'm more nervous than he is," said Carole Poling, just before her son went in to plead his case. "It's finally here. Hopefully, we'll have a good result." . . . But the first skirmish over Brooker Creek Preserve between the young environmentalist and Pinellas County in the 6th Judicial Circuit Court on Wednesday ended without resolution. . . . Poling, 18, a freshman at the University of Florida from East Lake, was seeking a temporary injunction to keep the county from changing its land use plan while his lawsuit moves forward. . . . But by the time both sides gave an overview of their positions and discussed the county's motion to dismiss the suit, the 50 minutes allotted before Circuit Judge Linda R. Allan had expired.

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ARCHIVED ON: April 4, 2012
Updated on: 04/06/2012