Active Judging in Eviction Court
The fast-paced and high-volume nature of court proceedings can present several obstacles for litigants with civil legal issues that end up in court. To address this issue, some judges have started implementing a new approach called active judging which aims to broaden access to information and resources for litigants who can’t afford legal help. To date, active judging has played a crucial role in leveling the playing field, as judges have looked for additional ways to assist self-represented litigants in understanding their legal rights and encourage resolutions that promote housing stability.
As a tool, advocates and judges have noted that active judging has been particularly effective in landlord-tenant court, where tenants face power imbalances and asymmetries in information related to courtroom proceedings. In a recent event, from the National Center for State Courts, judges from three different jurisdictions discussed how they have adopted principles of active judging to increase understanding, ensure due process, and expand access to resources for litigants in eviction court. The panelist judges outlined several techniques that can be used to address the myriad of obstacles litigants may encounter in the eviction court process. For example:
- Judges can provide an overview with clear explanations of the eviction process, including the steps involved, legal requirements, and timelines. This helps litigants understand what to expect during proceedings.
- Judges can explain the rights and obligations of both landlords and tenants involved in eviction cases. This includes informing tenants of their rights regarding notices, defenses, and potential remedies available to them.
- Judges can provide information about available resources and support services that can assist litigants during eviction cases. This may include legal aid organizations, tenant advocacy groups, housing counseling services, or mediation programs.
- Judges can encourage parties to explore alternatives to eviction, such as mediation or other eviction diversion programs where appropriate. By promoting dialogue between landlords and tenants, judges can help find mutually agreeable solutions that may prevent eviction and promote housing stability.
Although active judging involves judges taking a more active role in courtroom proceedings, judges must also strike a delicate balance to maintain impartiality. Still, in courtrooms where judges have chosen to play a more proactive role, the results have shown that judges can play an integral part in promoting an equitable eviction process that not only ensures the rights and interests of both landlords and tenants, but also promotes housing stability by communicating crucial resources available to tenants facing eviction.
To watch a recording of the Active Judging in Eviction Court panel visit: https://www.ncsc.org/consulting-and-research/webinars