If You’ve Ever Encountered A Difficult Court Clerk, Here’s Your Case

If you have ever run into a court clerk who seems set on making things difficult, take comfort in a December 14, 2011 decision issued by the California Court of Appeal for the Sixth District, Voit v. Superior Court of Santa Clara County, __Cal.App.4th__(December 14, 2011) (No. H037034). There, the clerk refused to accept for filing a request for appointment of counsel in a civil case submitted by an incarcerated and indigent individual. Four times Voit tried to get the Court to accept the filing and each time it was rejected for a claimed deficiency, the last few times with a note explaining that the court does not assign counsel for civil matters and requesting authority to the contrary.

Finally, out of exasperation apparently, Voit filed a petition for Writ of Mandate seeking to have his request for appointment of counsel filed by the clerk. The Court of Appeal agreed and issued the Writ along with a terse three page published decision that made the following point:

“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.’ (Rojas v. Cutsforth (1998) 67 Cal.App.4th 774, 777 (Rojas).) 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. (See Carlson v. Department of Fish & Game (1998) 68 Cal.App.4th 1268, 1276.) Even if the document contains defects, the clerk’s office should file it and notify the party that the defect should be corrected.”

And for those wondering, there is precedent (cited by the court) for the appointment of counsel for indigent inmates facing civil suits. (See Payne v. Superior Court (1976) 17 Cal.3d 908.)