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Copyright (c) 2007 National Association of Adminstrative Law Judiciary
Journal of the National Association of Administrative Law Judiciary

Article: A Full and Fair Hearing: The Role of the ALJ in Assisting the Pro Se Litigant

Fall, 2007

27 J. Nat'l Ass'n L. Jud. 447


By Paris R. Baldacci*


Most literature regarding the role of adjudicators in assisting pro se litigants is directed at trial judges presiding in state and federal courts. 1 That literature and the reforms it envisions are based on a critique of our lawyer-based adversarial litigation regime which is bound - some might say hidebound - by formal rules of evidence and procedure that effectively require representation by lawyers both for access to its promise of a fair and impartial resolution of disputes and to be able to navigate its shoals. 2 From the point of view of this critique, these systemic and structural characteristics, exacerbated by the passive role of the judge in such a system, deny pro se litigants access to justice and, thus, present fundamental constitutional challenges that must be met by our judicial system. 3 In searching for alternative models to guide judicial reforms, much of this literature looks enviously at the model of the administrative law judge ("ALJ") who - at least in contrast to trial court judges - appears freed from those elements of the adversary system described above, which most commentators agree frustrate the full participation of pro se litigants in our system of civil justice by silencing them in their attempts to articulate legal claims and defenses. 4

Thus, it is surprising to those of us who have been involved in formulating this critique and in proposing reforms which, in many instances, are based on the administrative law judge model, that ALJs face many of the same ...
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