Colorado Supreme Court
Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel
Promoting Professionalism. Protecting the Public.
N.Y. pro se program possible model for Colorado
The Honorable Fern Fisher of the New York City Courts spoke in April to a Colorado subcommittee that is studying programs to address the growing number of self-represented litigants.
By J.P. MOORE
The Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for New York City Courts spoke in Denver on April 22 about a program in her state that is designed to level the playing field and increase access to justice.
Judge Fern Fisher delivered her remarks about New York’s Court Navigator Program before an audience of the Colorado Supreme Court Advisory Committee and its Limited License Legal Technician Subcommittee.
The LLLT Subcommittee is currently studying programs that use non-lawyer professionals to address the growing number of self-represented litigants in Colorado. The Navigator Program, which the LLLT Subcommittee is reviewing as one possible model for Colorado, provides specially trained non-lawyers to help litigants access and complete court forms, assist in keeping paperwork in order, and explain what to expect during court proceedings.
The navigator program is the product of a partnership in New York which includes the Courts, the law schools, the Bar Association, as well as other entities.
In New York, court navigators approach unrepresented individuals who are facing nonpayment proceedings (e.g., landlords sue tenants) in the busy Housing Court, or in the consumer debt part of the civil court, which involve situations in which individuals owe money to entities such as credit card companies, hospitals, etc.
Navigators are not attorneys, but rather individuals from social work, education, and other backgrounds. This can include college students. While navigators are not permitted to provide legal advice and are trained to clearly define the limits of their role, they provide critical support for litigants in dealing with the challenges of the court system, thereby also providing important access to justice in this busy court system.
This support includes assistance in using courthouse computers to obtain information and completing “Do It Yourself” (DIY) forms, assistance in finding resources and documents, being present for negotiations in the busy hallways with opposing counsel, being present for conferences with the judge and/or the judge’s attorney, and responding to the judge’s or court attorney’s questions that are asked directly of the navigator.
For the navigator, the experience affords a tremendous opportunity to serve the public. It also provides practical experience being in court and interacting with judges, attorneys, court staff, and the public.
In order to prepare the navigators for their jobs and to clearly define the scope of the program, the navigators participate in a training process. This training includes a video that was prepared by Judge Fisher’s court staff. Attendees at the April 22 training had the opportunity to watch portions of this video.
Through the course of the year, the Court Navigator program undergoes significant review. Thus far, the program has received consistently positive praise from the public. This has also included positive support from the New York State Bar. In discussing the New York Bar’s view of this program, Judge Fisher also noted the differences between the navigator program and the LLLT (Limited Liability Legal Technician) program in Washington and the fact that navigators do not engage in the practice of law in any respect.
Not only is Judge Fisher’s perspective shaped by her view from the Bench, it is also informed by her personal journey. As Judge Fisher was thriving and graduating from Harvard Law School, a close family member was struggling with the same housing issues faced by many individuals in the Housing Courts. These personal experiences have not only fueled Judge Fisher’s commitment to getting the program started, but also ensured the program’s success.
Judge Fisher has discussed this program with individuals from around the country. During her April 22 presentation, she discussed the possibility of taking this program outside of Housing and Consumer Debt, or other specialized courts, and outside of New York. Judge Fisher expressed that with requisite planning, this program could apply to any type of docket.
A video of Judge Fisher’s presentation is available on YouTube.
J.P. Moore is Assistant Regulation Counsel in the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel.