December 15, 2011
PRO SE LITIGANTS
By: Christopher Reinhart, Chief Attorney
You asked whether (1) statutes and court rules prohibit pro se litigants from obtaining subpoenas to discover evidence in civil cases while allowing represented parties to obtain and issue subpoenas; (2) pro se litigants, unlike licensed attorneys, must file a $250 bond before issuing a summons or serving a complaint; and (3) any state has public defenders for civil cases and, if so, how the programs run and whether they are funded by a tax on lawyers.
The law does not prohibit pro se litigants from obtaining subpoenas. But, unlike licensed attorneys, they cannot sign and issue subpoenas. Several statutes and a court rule govern issuance of subpoenas.
1. A subpoena must be signed by a court clerk or a commissioner of the Superior Court (a licensed attorney) (CGS § 52-143).
2. A subpoena for a witness to appear for a deposition in a civil action can be issued, on request, by a judge, court clerk, justice of the peace, notary public, or commissioner of the Superior Court. The subpoena can also order the production or inspection of documents or things (CGS § 52-148e).
3. For a subpoena to compel a witness' attendance in a civil matter, a pro se litigant must file an application with the court clerk and a judge must direct or deny the subpoena's issuance (Practice Book § 7-19).
4. If a pro se litigant in a civil matter has been convicted of a family violence crime or certain other crimes, he or she must notify the court clerk when seeking to subpoena the victim of the crime the litigant was convicted of and the court must authorize the subpoena (CGS § 52-161b).
The law does not require a pro se litigant to post a bond but the court can require a bond in a civil case in certain situations.
1. If the plaintiff does not live in Connecticut or it does not appear to the authority signing the process that the plaintiff can pay the costs of the action if he or she loses, the plaintiff must enter a recognizance to the adverse party with a financially responsible person living in Connecticut as a surety (or the person living in Connecticut does so with the adverse party) that the plaintiff will prosecute the action and pay all costs if judgment is against him or her. Bond or recognizance can be required on a writ of summons or attachment (CGS § 52-185 and Ct. Prac. Book 8-3). But recognizance is not required of a pro se litigant in a summary process action (P.B. 8-3).
2. In actions where the plaintiff may be required to pay costs, the court cannot issue process after the commencement of the case until the recognizance of a third party for costs is taken unless the authority signing the writ certifies that he or she has personal knowledge that the plaintiff has sufficient financial responsibility. But recognizance is not required of a pro se litigant in a summary process action (Ct. Prac. Book 8-4).
3. The court, on the defendant's or its own motion, can order the plaintiff to give sufficient bond before trial. The amount of the bond is based on the costs the plaintiff could be responsible for except for expert witness fees (CGS § 52-186 and Ct. Prac. Book 8-6)
4. Other bond provisions apply to a member of a community defending an action (CGS § 52-187 and P.B. 8-8) and a nonresident in a realty action (CGS § 52-188 and Ct. Prac. Book 8-9).
It does not appear that any state has a public defender program for indigents in all civil cases. Some states do provide a right to counsel in certain civil cases, but the types of cases vary by state. Typically, these state laws cover family law matters such as cases of child abuse or neglect, involuntary commitment proceedings, or medical treatment. Other countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Madagascar, New Zealand, and South Africa have statutes or constitutional provisions providing free civil counsel for indigents (Laura Abel and Max Rettig, State Statutes Providing for a Right to Counsel in Civil Cases, and Raven Lidman, Civil Gideon: A Human Right Elsewhere in the World, both available in Clearinghouse Review (July-Aug. 2006)).