Minnesota courts work to keep up with do-it-yourself demand
By Hannah Covington Star Tribune 18 hrs ago
[...] Anecdotal evidence abounds about the surge in pro se cases. But national data comparing state totals remains scarce. That's why the Court Statistics Project, part of the National Center for State Courts' research division, released a 2013 report recommending state standards for defining and counting cases with pro se litigants.
The report's authors found that states don't count self-representation in the same way, if they count it at all. Once states begin using the same counting methods, the goal is to get a better grasp of what's happening nationally with pro se cases, said Shauna Strickland, a senior research analyst who helped write the report.
So far, only a handful of states have started reporting caseload data to the Court Statistics Project based on the report's recommendations, Minnesota among them.
Minnesota tracking cases
In 2015, for instance, Minnesota reported that about 80 percent of its civil cases involved self-represented litigants -- far and away the highest rate among states so far. By contrast, Indiana reported this figure as closer to 14 percent, the second-highest rate.
While it's too early to make much of these numbers with so few states reporting, it's this type of comparison that researchers are interested in, Strickland said.
"Maybe Minnesota is not such an outlier," she said.
In the 10th Judicial District, the bulk of DIY litigants come for help with civil and family law matters. For those looking for information on criminal cases, it's often about expungements or traffic tickets.
The story is that help centers are created to assist pro se litigants on procedural things such as a proper form or way to caption an item; but not giving legal advice. Minnesota for years has in its 10th judicial district had a conciliation court calendar. A form of small claims court with a jurisdicitonal limit, with a lower filing fee and not involving sought after relief other than money awards. Family law matters, clearly, require a separate calendar, but there is room there for pro se matters. Also, name changes and rental evictions can be on the conciliation court calendar. It appears to be a state-wide judicial practice, not merely in the 10th district, but seeing actual hearings outside of Anoka County happened only once, whereas more frequent days have been spent watching a few conciliation court calendars here, where I live. The process seems to work, and a reasonably intelligent claimant was known as a friend who has prevailed several times on separate claims in conciliation court, losing one or two in the process.
Adaptation within judicial ranks is a promising thing to see. Often there is inertia to change, so encouraging changes that are happening should be favorably reported.