Reforming the 7th Circuit

Richard Posner recently retired from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago publicly, stating that he was retiring earlier than he had originally planned because of the mistreatment that the judges on the 7th Circuit were giving the pro se litigants. 

It was reported that Posner’s moving up his date of retirement was attributed to “difficulty” with his colleagues. Posner was quoted as saying “I was not getting along with the other judges because I was (and am) very concerned about how the court treats pro se litigants, who I believe deserve a better shake.”  Posner has said staff attorneys routinely prepare memos recommending a disposition of the appeal and the recommendation goes to a panel of judges, who often “rubber stamp” the staff attorney’s memo, which is usually to dismiss the appeal. 

Posner said “I gradually began to realize that this wasn’t right, what we were doing... The basic thing is that most judges regard these people as kind of trash not worth the time of a federal judge.” 

Chief Judge Diane Wood has publicly responded saying that Posner’s “...views about that Office are not shared by the other judges on the court, and his assumptions about the attitudes of the other judges toward pro se litigants are nothing more than that -- assumptions.” 

The first important point here is that it is wrong for the judges on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to be regarding the people who are representing themselves as “trash,” as Posner contends. Wood says that Posner’s views in that regard aren’t shared by the other judges.  It is more than obvious that there is something very wrong here. Wood could certainly do more to assure the public that everything is on the up and up, as she is trying to portray, but her response falls woefully short. Merely saying that the judges who are the subject of Posner’s allegations “don’t share Posner’s views” about their alleged wrongdoing does nothing to reassure the public that the 7th Circuit’s attitude toward pro se litigants is as frivolous as Posner has alleged. 

Since the issues involve a high matter of public importance, there should be a very thorough investigation of the 7th Circuit.  Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4 explicitly states that an appeal is a matter of a “right.” The rule doesn’t give the judges of the 7th Circuit, or any circuit for that matter, any discretion in diminishing that right when it comes to a pro se appeal. Furthermore, the “Standards for Professional Conduct Within the Seventh Federal Judicial Circuit”, item 6, explicitly states “We will give the issues in controversy deliberate, impartial, and studied analysis and consideration.” Item 8 states “...that a litigant has a right to a fair and impartial hearing...”  A custom of systematically dismissing pro se appeals hardly meets the threshold standard of “...a right to a fair and impartial hearing...” 

It is a major red flag when judges aren’t even willing to follow the rules of their own court, and that certainly does appear to be the case with the judges in the 7th Circuit. Systematic discrimination by judges against a class of people, pro se litigants in this case, is wrong and against the law. Wood’s public response is not good enough. A grand jury should be empanelled and the judges and staff attorneys and law clerks should be required to testify under oath so that a factual determination may be made as to whether or not the judges on the 7th Circuit are systematically discriminating against the pro se litigants. 

At this point, it doesn’t look good for the 7th Circuit. Discrimination in our country is illegal on all fronts, and that includes judges who discriminate against a class of people who choose to or are forced to represent themselves in court. Wearing a black robe carries many benefits such as a large lifetime salary, but it doesn’t give judges any right to discriminate against a class of people as is apparently taking place in the 7th Circuit. The black robe worn by the judges of the 7th Circuit actually forbids it

Brian Vukadinovich is a retired teacher in Indiana.