Friday, December 16, 2011
C.A. Rebukes Clerk’s Office for Refusing to File Motion By Inmate Alleging ‘Mental Disabilities’
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
The Santa Clara County Superior Court Clerk’s office has been strongly rebuked by the Sixth District Court of Appeal for failing to accept a motion for filing by a self-represented litigant.
Justice Eugene M. Premo, in his decision for the court on Wednesday, called the actions of the clerk’s office “quite troubling,” and explained that “[i]f a document is presented to the clerk’s office for filing in a form that complies with the rules of court, the clerk’s office has a ministerial duty to file it.”
He concluded the clerk’s office violated Edward Voit’s constitutional right of access to the courts by unilaterally refusing to file his “Exparte Motion for Request for the Appointment of Counsel for Defendant” (sic) asking the court to appoint counsel to represent him in the civil case because he is incarcerated and indigent.
Voit, who was being sued in the Santa Clara Superior Court, submitted his motion to the clerk, which rejected it because he had not enclosed a filing fee, The document was returned to him with a fee waiver form.
He apparently then returned the completed waiver, as he received from the clerk’s office a second civil filing rejection letter that stated in relevant part, “Hearing date must be reserved prior to filing motions. However, the civil court does not appoint counsel.”
Voit then sent a letter asking the clerk’s office to reserve a date to hear his motion, and the clerk’s office responded with a civil filing rejection letter that read:
“The Court does not set a hearing for Request for the Appointment of Counsel on a Civil matter. You need to find a Counsel on your own to represent you.” (Sic.)
He subsequently sent another letter to the clerk’s office in which he wrote in part: “There is a [precedent] set that inmates suffering from mental disabilities can be assigned counsel by the court in a civil matter. This motion must be filed so that the judge can rule on that [precedent]’s impact in this case.”
The clerk’s office replied with yet another civil filing rejection letter, stating:
“The court does not assigned counsels for civil matters; please cite or quote the precedent for further consideration.” (Sic.)
After receiving this last civil filing rejection letter, Voit applied for a writ of mandate directing the Santa Clara Superior Court to both file his motion and grant his request for appointment of counsel.
Premo, joined by Presiding Justice Conrad L. Rushing and Justice Franklin D. Elia, remarked that “ ‘[i]t is difficult enough to practice law without having the clerk’s office as an adversary.’ ”
Whether Voit’s motion had legal merit, Premo said, was “a determination to be made by a judge, not the clerk’s office.”
He noted that “there actually is precedent allowing courts to appoint counsel for indigent inmates facing civil suits,” but the clerk’s office “prevented the court from applying this precedent, or any other relevant law, to Voit’s particular circumstances” by declining to file his motion.
Voit further emphasized that “[n]o statute, rule of court, or case law gives the court clerk’s office the authority to demand that a petitioner cite or quote precedent before his motion will be filed.”
Even if a document presented for filing contains defects, Premo advised “the clerk’s office should file it and notify the party that the defect should be corrected.”
The case is Voit v. Superior Court (Montano), 11 S.O.S. 6760.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company