Legal ethics

Beyond disbarred in Colorado

Stop me if I’ve said this before … but I’m a bad blogger. With that out of the way, here is something exceedingly rare and that caught my attention — a court ordering that a lawyer, who had already been disbarred, was now no longer entitled to even file things in court on a pro se basis.

The matter involves a former Colorado attorney — Kazazian — who was disbarred not quite a year ago as a result of her pursuit of “long-running frivolous legal actions across multiple jurisdictions.” The order of disbarment discussed how that severe sanction was necessary “to protect the integrity of the legal system and other litigants from any similar misconduct that [Kazazian] may, in the future, engage in.”

Despite being disbarred, Kazazian apparently continued with the same conduct as a pro se litigant.

This new order, entered on February 20, came about as the result of a petition filed by multiple attorneys and others requesting that the Colorado Supreme Court put a stop to ongoing various litigation efforts by the former attorney. Stating that the actions of Kazazian had become “intolerable,” the Court decided it had the “duty to stop the abuse with an injunction.”

The full opinion covers more than 50+ pages and is even characterized by its authors as a “lengthy and cumbersome read,” but it is worth perusing if you have the time. It certainly describes abusive litigation activity by a pro se individual, but it still raises (and does a somewhat decent job of grappling with) serious issues about the right of a citizen to access the courts.

“Every person has an undisputed right of access to the Colorado courts…’ but this right may not be abused… [and must] yield to the principle that ‘right and justice should be administered without sale, denial or delay.’” Dunlap, 623 P.2d at 410 (quoting Colo. Const. art. II, § 6). This principle is compromised when a pro se party “pursues myriad claims without regard to relevant rules of procedural and substantive law.” Winslow, 862 P.2d at 923. This is because “opposing litigants must bear the expense of defending against meritless claims,” and the public pays the price of increased court costs, crowded dockets, and unreasonable delay and confusion resulting from the disruption of proper judicial administration. Id. When a pro se litigant hampers the efficient administration of justice to an intolerable degree, it is our duty to stop the abuse with an injunction. Barday, 594 P.2d at 1059; Howard, 640 P.2d at 1129.

I can’t say for certain that it is the worst example of abusive litigation by a pro se party that I’ve ever seen. The opinion also raises questions because it still tells the story of a largely continuous story of efforts in a couple of related litigation matters where — for much of it she was a lawyer, and the same conduct (I think) was included in the findings that resulted in her disbarment only just year. But what I am most surprised about is that it imposes a full-on prohibition rather than requiring some sort of merits review before the person would be allowed to file something without the aid of an attorney.

In trying to think back on other times I’ve seen any order of this sort, I believe they almost universally involve the potential that a pre-filing merits screening process is available. See here. And here.

I’m left feeling unsettled about that outcome for some of the same reasons I am left feeling unsettled by a recent opinion issued by the Attorney General of Tennessee on Valentine’s Day that concludes that a recent ticket based “scheme” for limiting access to legislative proceedings in Tennessee does not violate the Tennessee Constitution. If you are looking for a pretty good back story about how we got to this place in Tennessee, you can read this article.

But for those who don’t want to do all of that reading, the short version is that the Tennessee General Assembly has implemented a process where in order to attend legislative proceedings, you have to get a ticket from one of the members of the House or the Senate. Now, in fairness, that statement is not 100% true. One side of the chambers is still open to the public on a first-come, first-serve attendance basis. But half of the available seating for the public to attend the proceedings is now restricted to getting a ticket from someone who is a member of the House or the Senate.

Even if it were not the case that one political party in Tennessee holds supermajorities in both houses of the legislature, the notion that the elected officials get to directly control which members of the public can be present to see the sausage get made would be a difficult position to find acceptable. But there are one-party supermajorities in my state, and given all of the other MAGAflavored positions Tennessee’s current Attorney General has taken a shine to, it actually is no real surprise that he has found a way to put his stamp of approval on this action as well.

What is the saddest and most brazen act in this particular instance, and is of course consistent with the overall level of disappointment coming out of the Attorney General’s office in Tennessee, is the last bit of the opinion in which he proceeds to tell the Tennessee Supreme Court (who made the mistake of appointing him to this office) that they wouldn’t have the power to do anything to enforce a violation of the Tennessee Constitution on this topic:

Accordingly, even if a legislative “ticketing system” is deemed to close a session or sessions of the Legislature, a court would not review or undertake to rule on the legislative decision to adopt that ticketing system.