Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Voit v. Superior Court (Cal. Ct. App. - Dec. 14, 2011)

Clerk's Offices range from the sublime to the incompetent (and/or actively hostile).  As a broad stereotype, the Clerk's Office down in San Diego tends towards the former, and the one in Los Angeles the latter.

There's presumably similarly broad variation throughout the state.  And unless you have familiarity with and exposure to the various offices, you never know what you might find once you're forced to litigate in a new county.

Those attorneys who have ever been forced to confront a less-than-sublime Clerk's Office will appreciate this opinion by Justice Premo.  Which, in three short pages, totally slams the Clerk's Office in Santa Clara County.

Here's a snippet:

"The actions of the court clerk’s office are quite troubling. 'It is difficult enough to practice law without having the clerk’s office as an adversary." [Citation]Whether Voit’s motion has legal merit is a determination to be made by a judge, not the clerk’s office. No statute, rule of court, or case law gives the court clerk’s office the authority to demand that a petitioner cite or quote precedent before his motion will be filed.

If a document is presented to the clerk’s office for filing in a form that complies with the rules of court, the clerk’s office has a ministerial duty to file it. [Citation] Even if the document contains defects, the clerk’s office should file it and notify the party that the defect should be corrected. [Citation] Moreover, there actually is precedent allowing courts to appoint counsel for indigent inmates facing civil suits.  [Citation]  By unilaterally refusing to file Voit’s motion, the clerk’s office prevented the court from applying this precedent, or any other relevant law, to Voit’s particular circumstances. The clerk’s office’s actions violated Voit’s rights under both the federal and state Constitutions to access the courts."