Posted on Apr 26, 2013

We all know that frivolous lawsuits exist, and must be eliminated.  One way to limit such lawsuits is to pass rules that permit some sort of penalty when a lawsuit is deemed to be frivolous.  But what if the person filing the frivolous has no money or assets, and is, therefore, "judgment proof."  In that situaiton, no sanciton or fine would influence the decision whether to file a frivolous lawsuit.  These people operate above the law because the law can't harm them.  They have nothing to lose.  The Rules of Professional Conduct forbit lawyers from filing frivolous lawsuit.  That is clear.  Those rules, however, do not apply to litigants who have not hired a lawyer because "pro se" litigants are not bound by the Rules of Professional Conduct.  Presenlty, there are rules in place that forbid frivolous lawsuit including (1) the Court's power to award sanctions; (2) the Court power to make a finding that the case was without merrit; (3) the defendant's right to bring a claim for vexatious litigation against the person who filed the frivolous lawsuit.  But, again, if the person filing the frivolous lawsuit is judgment proof with no assets, then there is, in effect, no deterant to frivolous lawsuits.  

There is a proposed bill that might solve the problem.  It was proposed by a local Gales Ferry resident Wyatt Kopp, and it provides a simple solution.  Don't waive the filing fee when people seek fee waivers.  Many people who are judgment proof seek waivers of the $300 filing fee, and in most instances unfortunately, those waivers are granted by the Superior Court judges.  If the bill is passed the person filing the lawsuit has something to lose when they file a frivolous lawsuit--their $300 filing fee.  That way they might think twice before they file their frivolous lawsuit because they have $300 to lose when they file there case.  Also, in order to be fair to poor people, the bill will allow for community service in lieu of the filing fee.  So, if someone truly has no money, and can't pay even the $300, they can still do some community service to gain the fee waiver.  So, they won't be denied their day in Court.  They just have to pay for it ($300 in money or community service) like the rest of us.  But the outright waivers of the fee should be eliminated, and Wyatt Kopp's idea is a good start.

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Peter J. Bartinik, Jr.
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Civil Trial Attorney, Practicing Law in Connecticut