Amended rule broadens judges’ discretion with pro se litigants

The Indiana Supreme Court has amended Code of Judicial Conduct Rule 2.2 dealing with the impartiality and fairness of Indiana judges. 

Amendments to the rule come after the Coalition for Court Access delved into several initiatives to enhance and strengthen Indiana’s civil legal aid delivery system, beginning in 2017.

Specifically, the coalition identified and endorsed three proposals for rule changes it believed would “further the mission of the Coalition and the Court to improve the availability and quality of access to civil legal services for persons of limited means.”

The high court’s first change to Rule 2.2 includes that a judge may make reasonable efforts, consistent with the law and court rules, to facilitate the ability of all litigants, including self-represented litigants, to be fairly heard.

Additionally, language was added under the “Comment” section of the rule that states a judge’s responsibility to promote access to justice — especially in cases involving self-represented litigants — may warrant the exercise of discretion by using techniques that enhance the process of reaching a fair determination in the case.

While the appropriate scope of discretion and how that discretion is exercised varies on a case-by-case basis, “a judge’s exercise of such discretion will not generally raise a reasonable question about the judge’s impartiality,” the Thursday order says.

Further, the amended rule includes reasonable steps that a judge may but is not required to take to exercise that discretion. Those steps advise that a judge may:

• Construe pleadings to facilitate consideration of the issues raised;

• Provide information or explanation about the proceedings;

• Explain legal concepts in everyday language;

• Ask neutral questions to elicit or clarify information;

• Modify the traditional order of taking evidence;

• Permit narrative testimony;

• Refer litigants to any resources available to assist in the preparation of the case or enforcement and compliance with any order, and;

• Inform litigants what will be happening next in the case and what is expected of them.

The full text of the amended version of Rule 2.2. can be read here.

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