July 18, 1979
You have requested an opinion of the Committee on the following:
1. The extent to which you, sitting as a Circuit Judge, may assist litigants who are not represented by counsel. Your inquiry appears primarily directed toward uncontested matters.
2. Who should prepare the "papers and/or judgments" for unrepresented litigants.
At the outset, three members of our Committee believe that your inquiries are outside the perimeter of the Committee's responsibility in that they deal not with ethical matters, but with potential judicial error. Two other members have indicated that they have some doubts about the propriety of answering your inquiries. Nonetheless, seven of the nine members have responded and the majority express the view that a judge has a right and duty to assist the unrepresented litigant in uncontested matters to obtain information necessary to the court's decision, with the caveat that the judge not become an advocate or interfere with the trial tactics of counsel in the case.
As to the preparation of papers and judgments in cases involving unrepresented litigants, your examples being uncontested dissolutions of marriage, adoptions, name changes, the majority of the Committee believes that it is the responsibility of the judge to prepare his own orders and judgments in any case where there in not an attorney to who he can delegate that function.
The Committee appreciates your inquiry and trusts that these recommendations will be helpful to you.
With all best wishes.
Anne C. Booth, Acting Chairman
Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
Participating members: Judges Booth, Carlisle, Haverfield, Hewitt, Letts, Richardson, Stephenson, Turner and Samuel J. Powers, Attorney