Going pro se

Last week I drafted an Article 78 petition to challenge the Town of Geneseo’s failure to deliver documents requested under a FOIL request made by my fellow columnist Bill Lofquist. Bill has been relentlessly pursuing the release of these documents since last October.

At first, I must admit, I thought he was a little nutty to spend so much time on this, but when one of the town’s attorneys, Ron Hull from Underberg and Kessler, reported that the documents had been lost or destroyed by his firm in the ordinary course of business, it tweaked my interest. What kind of law firm loses important records in an open matter?

After paying a lawyer to send a final demand letter didn’t work, we were left with a problem. The cost of hiring a lawyer, an estimated $5-10,000, to prosecute a lawsuit was well beyond the resources of PDDG’s treasury. On the other hand, after you’ve threatened litigation, you don’t like to run away with your tail between your legs.

The answer was to proceed pro se, which is the fancy Latin term for “do it yourself.” Although I did once actually pass the bar exam many moons ago, and was admitted to the bar in the 4th Appellate Division in Rochester in 1981, it has been over 20 years since I retired from the practice of the law.

More to the point, it’s been over 25 years since I studied Civil Procedure in law school and I didn’t have much interest in the subject even then. Being a litigator was something I never dreamed of, but now that I’m “retired”, why not?

I can vaguely remember Professor David Siegel telling us at Albany Law School, that the CPLR law (which stands for the Civil Practice Laws and Procedures, the law that governs procedures in court) is full of traps for the unwary. I expect we’ll fall into a few of those traps in the next few weeks– unless we are lucky enough to get a judge who will take pity on a couple of civilians, or some sympathetic lawyer out there in blogland would like to help with a little pro bono!

Officially I am still retired from the practice of law and I aim to keep my amateur status ( I know I’m sure not getting paid for this work!) I will try to read up on the subject of course, but even so, it’s pretty clear that a brokedown newspaper publisher and an absent-minded professor will be no match for the experienced litigators of Underberg and Kessler. It will probably look like the New York Yankees playing the local Little League team, but what do we have to lose besides our pride?

I’m sure we will all hear a lot in the coming weeks about how Bill and I are wasting the taxpayers money on a fishing expedition, but for those who take the time to read through the documents we have posted in the The PDDG File, it should be clear that something is seriously rotten in the state of Denmark.

Of course, the town could solve all this by just getting copies of the records back from their friends on the development team. I wish they would. Then I wouldn’t have to study so hard in the next few weeks! I’m supposed to be retired!

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