Posner: Most judges regard pro se litigants as 'kind of trash not worth the time'

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Judge Richard Posner.

Judge Richard Posner cites boredom with judging as well as rebuffed efforts to aid pro se litigants in a new interview explaining his decision to suddenly retire from the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Posner, 78, told the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin last week that he decided to retire because of conflicts with his colleagues over the treatment of pro se litigants, who represent themselves. In a new interview with the New York Times, Posner elaborated on his concerns about the treatment of such litigants.

“The basic thing is that most judges regard these people as kind of trash not worth the time of a federal judge,” Posner said.

In the 7th Circuit, staff lawyers review appeals from pro se litigants, and their recommendations are generally rubber-stamped by judges, he noted.

Posner wanted to give the pro se litigants a better shake by reviewing all of the staff attorney memos before they went to the panel of judges. Posner had approval from the director of the staff attorney program. “But the judges, my colleagues, all 11 of them, turned it down and refused to give me any significant role. I was very frustrated by that,” Posner said.

Posner has written about the pro se issue in an upcoming book, and its publication “would be particularly awkward” if he remained on the court because it “implicitly or explicitly” criticizes the other judges, he said.

Posner said he began to focus on the problems of pro se litigants about six months ago when he “awoke from a slumber of 35 years.” He decided to write the book and “realized, in the course of that, that I had really lost interest in the cases,” he told the Times.

“And then I started asking myself, what kind of person wants to have the same identical job for 35 years? And I decided 35 years is plenty. It’s too much. Why didn’t I quit 10 years ago? I’ve written 3,300-plus judicial opinions.”

Subsequent coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “7th Circuit’s chief judge responds to Posner on pro se criticisms”

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