Friday, December 2, 2016

Pro Se Survey II

In 2012 we offered the first in our pro se survey series. The information we request on this survey builds off of the first one, and hopefully makes up for some of the information gaps. We ask for your name and address, but you are not required to provide that information to complete the survey. Providing your personal information is completely voluntary. Thank you to all of you who contribute. If you are a pro se litigant, please complete our survey. If you do not want to be contacted after completing it, we won't contact you - ever. This is in no way a ploy to collect your information. We really want the data; and you can remain completely anonymous.


Pro se litigants are often overwhelmed and face multiple obstacles in pursuing or defending their legal matters. As far as we can tell no one, no government entity, no private groups makes a concerted effort to find information about pro se litigants. There are plenty of assumptions. One of the most prevalent assumptions is that pro se litigants simply cannot afford an attorney. Another assumption is that pro se litigants lack formal education. We want to know whether these assumptions are correct. Whether there is, in fact, much more to the story. 

The legal system belongs to all citizens. It does not belong to attorneys, the judges, or the court staff. Our tax dollars pay the court staff and the judges salaries. We understand that the court prefers for consumers to be represented by counsel. Consumers lack of information about procedure is real. Florida procedure is labyrinthine and there are few reliable sources for consumers to learn about the steps and rules that must be followed. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Privatization of Medicare and Social Security


This is a non-partisan issue:



Tell Sen. Rubio: Don’t Privatize Medicare or Social Security

President-elect Donald Trump has put forward plans to privatize some of our nation’s vital services. Working people are concerned that he may consider House Speaker Paul Ryan’s Medicare privatization plan, as well as Social Security privatization. This would be devastating for people who rely on these programs.

Tell Sen. Rubio to oppose Medicare and Social 

Security privatization.

Here’s how you can help:

Step 1: Address Sen. Rubio - 1650 Prudential Dr #220, Jacksonville, FL 32207
  • Dear Sen. Rubio,
Step 2: Share Something Personal
  • Write something personal about why you care about preserving Medicare and Social Security. Tell him why these services are important to you.

Step 3: Make the Point That Our Communities Rely on Medicare and Social Security, and Privatization Does Not Work
  • Last year, over 4 million Floridians benefited from Medicare, and over 570,000 relied on Supplemental Security Income through Social Security.
  • Instead of reducing health care costs, Ryan’s plan would likely increase them.
  • Medicare as we know it is already efficient, and offers health care at rock-bottom costs.

Step 4: Sign the Letter
  • Sign your letter and include your mailing address. It also is good to provide your phone number and email address.
If you want to write a letter and mail it, you can use the following format. It doesn't need to be long or complicated. OR if you would prefer to return your letter to me, I can have them hand delivered to Senator Rubio. Email your letters to me at floridalegalforms@gmail.com and please send them as a doc or pdf attachment. Thank you!


A sample letter could go something like this:

December __, 2016
To: Senator Rubio
From: Ella M. Roe
Re: Do not privatize Social Security or Medicare

Dear Senator Rubio,
I am a 95 year-old woman with glaucoma. I rely on Medicare and Social Security. I have lived and worked in Florida since 1956. My deductibles are low and I would prefer that they stay that way. If Social Security and Medicare were privatized I don’t know how I would survive.

Protect Floridians and please do not allow either of these programs to be privatized.

Ella M. Roe
407-xxx-xxxx
xxxx Cutler Drive
Orlando, FL 328xx



My mom at the age of 81. In Costa Rica ready to ride the zipline!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Stand Up for Standing Rock

Mainstream news sources are not reporting this. Please share this post and take action by calling President Obama to ask him to put a stop to this.

video


The video above is of an individual explaining the conditions the protesters are facing. This link - Water is Life - takes you to another video that describes the issues in detail. 

Mni Wiconi - Water is Life
Hear the message of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Honor tribal sovereignty and the Earth we inhabit by telling President Obama to deny the easement by calling 202-456-1111. We need every person to call Obama this week before Dec. 5th. Please share. For more information visit standwithstandingrock.net
#NoDAPL
#StandwithStandingRock
#standingrock
#bankexit 

Update from www.standingrock.net

U.S. veterans to form human shield at Dakota pipeline protest

By Terray Sylvester | CANNON BALL, N.D.

CANNON BALL, N.D. More than 2,000 U.S. military veterans plan to form a human shield to protect protesters of a pipeline project near a Native American reservation in North Dakota, organizers said, just ahead of a federal deadline for activists to leave the camp they have been occupying.It comes as North Dakota law enforcement backed away from a previous plan to cut off supplies to the camp – an idea quickly abandoned after an outcry and with law enforcement’s treatment of Dakota Access Pipeline protesters increasingly under the microscope.
The protesters have spent months rallying against plans to route the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline beneath a lake near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, saying it poses a threat to water resources and sacred Native American sites.
Protesters include various Native American tribes as well as environmentalists and even actors including Shailene Woodley.
State officials issued an order on Monday for activists to vacate the Oceti Sakowin camp, located on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, citing harsh weather conditions.
The state’s latest decision not to stop cars entering the protest site indicated local officials will not actively enforce Monday’s emergency order to evacuate the camp issued by Governor Jack Dalrymple.
Dalrymple warned on Wednesday that it was “probably not feasible” to reroute the pipeline, but said he had requested a meeting with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council to rebuild a relationship.
“We need to begin now to talk about how we are going to return to a peaceful relationship,” he said on a conference call.



Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Disconnected Logic of Child Support Enforcement Sanctions in Florida

Non-payment of child support could result in driver's license suspension or incarceration. Non-payment of child support could result in driver's license suspension or incarceration.

I wrote that twice to drive home the logical disconnect that statement implies. If the payor is blithely ignoring his (or her) responsibilities and has plenty of money to fulfill those obligations -- fine by me, take his license and lock him up! And, yes, it is usually a him, only sometimes a her, that is the payor.

The Florida Department of Revenue orders child support through an administrative process, and also enforces those orders. One of the problems is that the ordered amount is often not based on both parties' full financial information. The parents are frequently unwed and low income. A common scenario is that a young couple cohabits and has a child, then breaks up. The father may or may not be on the child's birth certificate. After the break up, the mother contacts the Department of Revenue (DOR) and requests assistance with child support. The father is personally served with a DOR complaint for child support. He frequently does not answer the complaint at all. Most of the time he appears at the hearing, believing that an order for timesharing will be rendered at the same time. The mother may have refused to let the father see the child unless he pays child support.

So the father goes to the hearing, willing to pay child support, and hoping to be able to see his child on a regular basis. At the hearing, the magistrate asks the father how much money he earns and requests to see his pay statements for the past three months. The mother's income is often not taken into account at all. The father is then ordered to pay child support based solely on those three months' income.

Frequently, no consideration is given to other factors such as which parent is paying for daycare or medical insurance for the child. The father asks, what about me seeing my child. The magistrate may tell him politely that this hearing is only about child support. Or the magistrate may tell him rather rudely that he needs to pay his child support and file for shared custody in family court. The father frequently does not realize that the DOR complaint for child support includes retroactive support for up to 24 months. The complaint may actually request retroactive support dating from the child's birth, despite the fact that per statute, only 24 months retroactive support may be ordered. If the father does not make an argument, he may be ordered to pay 24 month retroactive support even though he was living with the mother and the child up until the previous month and supporting all of them. It is not fair. And the father comes out of that hearing with his head spinning, having just been ordered to pay child support and without any order allowing him to see his child. And the father may automatically be several thousand dollars in debt because the retroactive support was ordered, he is below zero before he begins.

The father is given no information about how to go about obtaining an order for timesharing with his child. His wages are garnished for support. The mother may or may not let him see the child. The father seeing his child is solely depending on the mother's whim.

As time goes by, the father changes jobs, and the wage garnishment is not placed on his new job. The garnishment is supposed to be automatically put into effect on his new job, but the DOR is an absurdly inefficient entity, and that detail is routinely left undone. That detail, the DOR neglecting to put the income deduction into place on the payor's next job is often the beginning of a nightmare for the father.

The mother, not receiving anything on her child support debit card, contacts the DOR and requests enforcement. In theory, it isn't necessary for her to contact the DOR, they will enforce automatically ... but we've already seen how that goes. So she calls, and calls, and finally gets the DOR to begin enforcement. Child support orders processed through the Department of Revenue are called Title IV-D child support orders.
When a Florida court enters a Title IV-D child support order (or when such an order from another state is properly registered in Florida or a non-Title IV-D case is referred to the Florida Department of Revenue for enforcement), the Florida Department of Revenue can take a variety of steps and measures to encourage the obligor parent to pay the child support amount owed. Although generally the Florida Department of Revenue (DOR) attempts to secure voluntary compliance with Title IV-D orders, the DOR can take aggressive measures if other methods at securing voluntary payment have failed and/or if it is believed such measures will not be fruitful.

Measures that the DOR has taken to enforce child support can include:
  • Mailing notices to the Payor informing him or her of the past-due obligations (this is usually the first step at attempting to secure voluntary compliance);
  • Arranging a face-to-face meeting between the DOR and the Payor to attempt and negotiate a plan to resolve the outstanding child support obligation;
  • Suspending the Payor's professional or business license(s), his or her hunting and/or fishing license, and/or the Payor’s driver’s license until he or she begins making payments and/or arranges to pay the past-due obligation;
  • Denying the Payor's request to renew his or her passport;
  • Garnishing/ levying bank accounts belonging to the Payor;
  • Sending withholding orders to the Payor’s employer directing that employer to withhold a certain amount from the Payor’s paycheck and remit that amount directly to the DOR;
  • Intercepting federal or state income tax refunds or intercepting Florida lottery winnings (if those winnings exceed $600);
  • Deducting amounts owed for child support from state benefits like worker’s compensation benefits or reemployment benefits;
  • Placing a lien on any motor vehicle and/or boat owned by the Payor;
  • Reporting the delinquent child support obligation on the Payor’s credit reports; and/or
  • Filing a lawsuit against the Payor. This lawsuit could result in the Payor being found in contempt of court. Such a finding can result in the Payor being incarcerated in jail until he or she pays the outstanding amount or makes acceptable arrangements to pay the amount.
The absurdity is real. All of the above measures, except for incarceration, are considered administrative sanctions to coerce the Payor into paying the child support that he owes; and assumes that the Payor has the ability to pay. The most used sanction by far is suspension of the Payor's driver's license. Most people depend on having transportation to stay employed. There are few parts of Florida where the public transportation is adequate so that a vehicle is not needed to get back and forth to work. Take away the license - take away the job. Or, for the desperate few, who will drive despite a having a suspended license, the risk of incarceration for driving on a suspended license is an everyday reality. How is the Payor supposed to pay when he is not able to maintain employment because he has no driver's license?
Incarceration is even more absurd. If its tough to pay child support with no driver's license, it is nearly impossibly while incarcerated. Without a money tree or a generous family member, the Payor continues to fall farther and farther behind. And the mother in all of this, the mother just wants child support, she does not necessarily want her baby daddy in jail, what good can come of that?










Monday, October 31, 2016

Saul Alinsky's 12 Rules

Do these tactics sound familiar? Have you ever seen someone use these techniques to win? OF COURSE YOU HAVE! In the run up to this presidential election, you've seen these tactics employed repeatedly. Are they brilliant or underhanded? Would you think less of an individual who argued this way?


* RULE 1: “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.” Power is derived from 2 main sources – money and people. “Have-Nots” must build power from flesh and blood.

* RULE 2: “Never go outside the expertise of your people.” It results in confusion, fear and retreat. Feeling secure adds to the backbone of anyone.

* RULE 3: “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.” Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty.

* RULE 4: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters. You can kill them with this because no one can possibly obey all of their own rules.

* RULE 5: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.

* RULE 6: “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.” They’ll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They’re doing their thing, and will even suggest better ones.

* RULE 7: “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.” Don’t become old news.

* RULE 8: “Keep the pressure on. Never let up.” Keep trying new things to keep the opposition off balance. As the opposition masters one approach, hit them from the flank with something new.

* RULE 9: “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.” Imagination and ego can dream up many more consequences than any activist.

* RULE 10: “If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.” Violence from the other side can win the public to your side because the public sympathizes with the underdog.

* RULE 11: “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.” Never let the enemy score points because you’re caught without a solution to the problem.


* RULE 12: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.  

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Technology is a Tool ... [text of Ruth Tick's closing speech at the 2016 FALDP Conference]

It's astonishing to consider that in this day and age, with all of our modern technology, information delivery systems, and real time communication that consumers are still struggle to access the court system. Pro se litigants struggle because they lack information even though the information is there for the taking. I googled the phrase "Florida divorce" and received over sixteen billion returns in a half second. The information is there, but it's too much to take in. When I refine the search and use "Florida divorce information", I still get over 7 billion returns in around point 4 seconds. Still way too much information. It's overwhelming. And, the information is often unreliable, contradictory, or outdated. Some of the information doesn't apply and much of the information is very general. So even after the searcher reads every single page on every single site on the first page of google he may not have learned anything he didn't already know. The same outcome applies to any other type of legal information that a consumer might search. Adoption, immigration, bankruptcy, or anything else. It's hard, it's frustrating, it's mind-boggling. Technology is a tool, but its not the answer.

People use tools. People are the answer. What if we could be the filter for all this legal information? What if document preparers could not only prepare documents but also provide consumers with the information they need and want? The good news is that we can, and most of us do everyday. Whether or not you have a formal policy to provide legal information, you probably do so. When a consumer calls, emails, or walks into your office he's probably not just window shopping. That consumer is in front of you because he has a problem. He's hoping that you can help him or fix it for him.

But, document preparers are not even allowed to select forms for a consumer. How is a pro se supposed to know what to file unless someone helps. Is he really supposed to wade through those billions of websites? Or spend days and nights at the law library? Some pro se litigants think that it's the clerk of courts' job to give them legal information and assist with procedure. Not hardly. As many of us know first hand and we know all too well from our customers, the clerks are not allowed to say much of anything. Depending on the clerk, the county, the circuit, and maybe the weather, sometimes a clerk will give a consumer some guidance. But, they usually won't or can't because they fear for their jobs. Why, because of that supposed fine line between legal information and legal advice.


But, in fact, there is no fine line. It's easy to know what's fact and what's advice. It's nonsensical to pretend that it's difficult to tell the difference. A fact is a statement that can be verified in some way. A fact is something that truly exists or happens. Advice is an opinion or recommendation offered as a guide to action or conduct. Think about this. These are very different things. Completely different ways of thinking and communicating thoughts -- so I doubt they are often actually confused. I know that when I say - You should wear your seat belt - that I'm giving advice. And when I say, Florida law requires people to wear seat belts - that's a fact.

And if I say the first step in an eviction for nonpayment of rent is to deliver a three day notice to pay or quit. That's a fact. But here is where the games begin. Every driver should know that he's supposed to wear a seat belt. You have to know it to pass the driving test, and if you don't wear your seat belt, you'll get a ticket. It's common knowledge. I've been a landlord since 1984. It's old news to me that you have to give a tenant a three day as the first step to evict.. I learned that years ago. But, there is no landlord course for beginner landlords, they don't know that fact unless someone tells them or they learn it some other way. And if they go and ask the clerk of court what to do, they might not get an answer. It all depends on how they ask. If they say my tenant won't pay the rent what should I do? The clerk of court, or even a document preparer may be reluctant to reply, because it sounds like the answer will be advice. "You should give your tenant a three day notice". Should. But if you answer, the first step in eviction is a three day notice to pay or quit, see Florida Statute Chapter 83 - that's a fact.

Its word play, semantics. And we can work with it. People ask all the time about which procedure or form to use for their desired outcome. We can't select forms for them. But if they know what they want to do but don't know the name of the form or procedure, in my opinion, it would be wrong to refuse to answer. The consumer has a problem or he wouldn't be talking to a document preparer. To say, sorry can't answer that, is acting like the clerk of court. And we CAN answer. Answer with a statement of fact not a "should" statement.

All Florida attorneys have standing to initiate a UPL investigation. Think about that one. We are not regulated by the Florida Bar. We are not attorneys. Attorneys in some aspects are our competition, yet they can report us for supposedly engaging in UPL, even though we don't have anything to do with them. A scenario where an attorney cried UPL because he was losing to a pro se litigant is nothing more than gamesmanship. An attempt to ham string his opponent by taking away the one tool he has - the document preparer. And, sadly, it works. At that juncture a prudent document preparer would sever the relationship with the pro se litigant and address the UPL investigation directly. It's a risk we take.


Every occupation has risks. Roofers, fire fighters, electricians, pilots, chauffeurs, truck drivers, farmers, trash collectors, and construction workers, are among the most dangerous occupations. Anyone working in one of these occupations could die on the job. A business risks their money and time, hoping that the returns exceed the outlay. Our business is unique because legal document preparers could be subjected to a harassing UPL investigation; or even fined or face incarceration. Just for doing our jobs. Just for trying to assist a consumer.

In fact, in the big picture, our risks are minimal providing we plan ahead and take precautions. A roofer knows how to walk a roof, to wear a safety harness if the pitch is too steep. Fire fighters have safety gear which they must keep in good working order at all times. So that when they run into the burning building they have their gear to rely on. We also have tools to mitigate risk. Use them.

The Florida Supreme Court, the Florida Bar, and the Florida Commission on Access to Justice has been discussing and debating various initiatives for as long as I can remember to increase consumers access to the court system. Despite their efforts there has been little actual change or improvement since we formed FALDP in 2010. Document preparers are completely overlooked as part of an official solution. Every time I see a newspaper article, a Florida Bar Review article, or press release that discusses the need for private sector innovation to increase citizens legal access, I write an email to the Florida Bar. I tell them - we're here - we are part of the solution. If I get a response at all, it is usually along the lines of don't call us, we'll call you.

Besides being dismissed and ignored we are harassed. The threat of an investigation is always there. We hang back in the shadows and are not as aggressive in promoting our businesses as we might be. We fly under the radar and try not to draw attention to ourselves. We second guess our every move, lest we might somehow do something that a UPL Committee or a lone attorney decides might be engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.

More than one FALDP member has closed up shop, specifically because of the threat of unfounded UPL allegations. Until the day we demand that the State of Florida recognizes that document preparers are here to stay, that document preparers provide a sought after service, and we have earned our place in the legal system -- we, as business professionals, will remain marginalized, vulnerable, and ineffective.

Today I ask every FALDP member to stand with me and demand what is ours. Demand the right to pursue our livelihood without interference. Demand the respect that each of us deserves. Actively transcend the challenges we face by faithfully serving our customers. And because of their gratitude seize what is ours. We create positive change in consumers lives everyday. We help those who have given up, who don't know what to do, and who cannot possibly afford an attorney. We make Florida a better place to live, despite the zealots who would have us fined and imprisoned. Come with me out of the shadows. Bask in the sunshine. Fly into the radar. Stand with me to seize what is yours. Transform the fear into a mission to continue your work in the light of day. Stand with me and never look back.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Florida Probate for Small Estates - Summary Administration of Estate

Many Floridians don't realize that a family member or other interested person is allowed to settle an estate. It is a myth that an attorney must be involved in every estate. If an estate is small enough to qualify for the Summary Administration of Estate process a family member or interested party may be able to initiate and handle the paperwork pro se. In general, Summary Administration of Estate is appropriate if the value of the estate is less than $75,000 excluding exempt property. The summary administration process is also available if the decedent passed away more than two years prior to filing the Petition for Summary Administration. 

It seems that nothing in Florida that has to do with the courts is easy. Some states require only one single document called an Affidavit of Small Estate. But, in Florida a set of documents is almost always required. The probate court also expects the filer to submit proposed orders along with the petition. This rule differs from the regular rules of civil procedure which generally require that orders are not to be filed in the court record.

When a family member dies, the first step in settling the estate is to determine whether there is a will. Sometimes the family knows exactly where the will is, and other times it takes a search through the decedent's papers in order to locate it. Other times the will is in a safe deposit box. In Florida there is no requirement to file a will with the court until after someone dies. If there is a will, then the estate is considered "testate". If there is no will, the estate is considered "intestate".

The next step after determining whether there is a will or not, guides the whole process. If the person died with no will, then the rules of intestate succession apply. Florida Statute 732 lays out the exact order of inheritance. If there is a will the wishes of the decedent are carried out as closely as possible. For example, in Florida you can't disinherit a surviving spouse -- even if the will says so.

The next project is to determine what the probate assets are. When there is a will, sometimes the assets are listed, and sometimes not. Sometimes assets have been acquired since the will was signed, and sometimes the will's language is very general. Language like I leave all that I own to my brother, John Adams; and leave nothing to my brother George Washington, is perfectly legal. While you cannot disinherit a spouse, you can certainly disinherit anyone else, including children. It is considered best practice if someone is to be disinherited to name that person in the will to avoid a possible will contest that could claim the disinheritance was a mistake.

A probate asset is property that was owned by the decedent in his or her name only. Real property in more than one person's name may or may not be a probate asset. If the form of ownership with another person or persons is "tenants in common" it is a probate asset. If it is owned by another person or persons as "joint tenants with right of survivorship" or owned with the surviving spouse, then the property is not a probate asset. Joint bank accounts are not probate assets. A bank account with a transfer on death (TOD) designation is not a probate asset. Life insurance with a person's name as beneficiary is not a probate asset; but life insurance naming "the estate of ..." is a probate asset.

And, next, determine whether the estate is indebted. If there is credit card debt, some credit card companies will write off the debt, others won't. It never hurts to ask. The credit card companies that will write off the debt, usually require nothing more than a written request and a copy of the death certificate.

Florida Statute 735.203


(1) A petition for summary administration may be filed by any beneficiary or person nominated as personal representative in the decedent’s will offered for probate. The petition must be signed and verified by the surviving spouse, if any, and any beneficiaries except that the joinder in a petition for summary administration is not required of a beneficiary who will receive a full distributive share under the proposed distribution. However, formal notice of the petition must be served on a beneficiary not joining in the petition.

Despite the plain language of the above statute some clerks of court and even some judges are adamant that a Petition for Summary Administration of Estate must be signed and filed by an attorney. As far as we know, Sarasota County and Washington County refuse to allow pro se litigants to file summary administration of estate.