Federal Judges In Colorado Adopt Plain English Summaries In Decisions

March 13, 2023

Federal judges are beginning to adopt the practice of summarizing decisions in plain English for people who represent themselves before the court.

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Charlotte Sweeney / Credit: Laura Mahony Photography

Charlotte N. Sweeney, United States district judge of the United States District Court for the District of Colorado, recently issued multiple written orders in cases where the plaintiffs without an attorney.

"The Court said that if you did not explain why you had not served these Defendants that it would also dismiss your claims against them with prejudice, meaning that it would permanently close your claims against them in this lawsuit," Sweeney wrote on Feb. 17 in a civil action lawsuit summary.

Colorado U.S. Magistrate Judge Maritza Dominguez Braswell has also adopted plain English for "pro se" plaintiffs.

"If I give them information in terms that are simple and straightforward, it helps them better understand the 'what' and the 'why,' and it moves things along," Dominguez Braswell said earlier this year.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Allison Claire, based in Sacramento, suggests the use of pro se summaries to the judges she trains.

"It takes more time to be concise than to be verbose," Claire told Colorado Politics. "I think it's worth it."

Judge Mark Painter, who served as a judge for 30 years in Ohio, has always urged fellow judges and lawyers to use plain language.

"Cases involve real people," he said. "Shouldn't they be able to read what is happening to them?"

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