Last year a legislative liaison attorney from the Tennessee Bar Association worked hard to try to advance our state-wide Abusive Litigant List bill, and many other good bills, and to persuade the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) to give their thumbs up to our supportive legislators. With little explanation, the AOC has shown itself fairly complacent despite the need for judicial reforms and despite similar judicial reforms being enacted in other Red and Blue states. This attorney advised us to contact Tennessee’s judges directly and advocate for their support for our state-wide Abusive Litigant List bill and express the need for judicial reform policies in general regarding blatantly abusive lawsuits filed by pro se litigants.
My husband and I waited until after the November 2022 elections to put this attorney’s advice into effect. In the meantime, our area was also redistricted so that we have a new representative. Both our former representative and our new representative are supportive of our judicial reform efforts, but they, as do undoubtedly other good legislators, receive less than enthusiastic responses from Tennessee’s Administrative Office of the Courts on any bills dealing with judicial reform. Nonetheless, we will continue to forge ahead with our statewide Abusive Litigant list bill until it becomes a reality.
In January 2023 we sent letters to circuit court judges throughout Tennessee. We have received some very positive responses from “old school” judges who likewise recognize a problem with their fellow judges allowing abusive litigants’ meritless lawsuits to go forward. These judges, and a few other judges we’ve spoken to previously, have assured us that they take their roles and duties seriously and they have a practice of ensuring that no one will abuse the court system as a means of harassment against innocent people. Some of these judges informed us that they have a good working relationship with their court clerks to “flag” pro se litigants’ lawsuits that look suspiciously abusive. When those court clerks bring those lawsuit filings to the judge and the judge finds them to be utterly lacking in valid claims, these judges exercise their sua sponte right by instantaneously dismissing those lawsuits on the spot or not even allowing those lawsuits to be filed in the first place. (Sua sponte is the Latin term for judges’ right to dismiss or make other rulings on court filings without any party asking for such rulings.) Most importantly, the intended victim/defendants are spared the emotional and financial burden that the abusive pro se litigant intended to cause them if their meritless lawsuits were allowed to proceed.
This is the course of action that every judge should be practicing in their role and responsibility as court managers. The sole reason why the number of meritless, abusive lawsuits filed by pro se litigants (and by unscrupulous attorneys) have increased exponentially in the last few decades is because so many judges are failing to exercise their sua sponte right to instantaneously review and dismiss utterly meritless lawsuits, as judges of previous generations once did out of profound respect for the fairness of our court system. Couple that with the fact that this same large “new generation” of judges never enforce their judgments with required court-ordered payment plans against the abusive litigants and it becomes quite evident that these judges genuinely do not care about the financial damage being done to innocent victims of abusive litigants. Sitting on the bench becomes nothing but a job with a nice paycheck and undeserved prestige.
The feedback we’ve received from competent, conscientious “old school” judges regarding the problem of abusive pro se litigants is encouraging, and our intention is to obtain their continued support in our efforts with our legislators to see a state-wide Abusive Litigant List bill enacted. Other judicial reforms are needed as well, such as the need for judges to order pro se litigants suspected of filing an abusive or meritless lawsuit to pay an upfront bond that, in the likely event that the pro se litigants lose their cases, the bond money will repay innocent defendants’ attorney fees and any other expenses ordered by the court. If judges won’t order suspected abusive pro se litigants to pay an upfront bond, then judges need to order mandatory payment plans attached to judgments against abusive pro se litigants so that innocent defendants can receive fair and just compensation for the expense of getting the abusive pro se litigants’ cases dismissed. The reality about judgments is that they are generally worthless pieces of paper that only confirm to the abusive pro se litigant his or her success in causing a specific amount of financial damage. Judgments without enforcement are a sick joke on innocent victims of abusive pro se litigants.
So many of our country’s courts are abysmal, corrupt hell-holes of injustice. They were made that way by apathetic, incompetent, morally bankrupt attorneys who became judges. At some point I hope to see conscientious judges conducting seminars for other judges and for law school students about much needed judicial reforms. At these seminars I hope to see victims of abusive pro se litigants given a chance to speak so that we can show judges, attorneys, and law school students the faces of real people who have been financially devastated not only by pro se litigants’ successful weaponization of the court system, but by the judges who have failed to exercise their right and duty to ensure fairness and justice in our courts. So then, what is needed is for more victims of abusive litigation to contact judges directly and tell them the detrimental impact they’ve experienced because too many judges are failing to exercise their duty and their rights as court managers to practice instantaneous sua sponte reviews and dismissals of blatantly abusive lawsuits. We must make our voices heard about these very preventable injustices to our legislators and to our judges — both of whom receive their paychecks from our tax dollars.