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New Jersey Governor Vetoes Frivolous Bill

In the January '96 issue of PLN we featured "TX Anti-Litigation Law," about a law passed in Texas purportedly to stem "frivolous" litigation by prisoners. Also in that article was information about how this type of law was crafted by the National Association of Attorneys General and has been promoted through a national PR campaign. As a result, similar bills have been passed or are being considered by a number of states. Florida, for example, passed such a law in January by unanimous votes in both houses of the state legislature.

A "frivolous lawsuit" bill was also passed by the New Jersey legislature in January. New Jersey governor Christie Whitman announced that she would not sign the bill, however, and so it was "vetoed" by default seven days after it was submitted for her signature.

The bill allowed for prisoners who filed lawsuits later determined to be frivolous to lose good time credits as punishment. A spokesperson for the governor said that such a provision may be unconstitutionally punitive. The loss of good time credits would have the practical effect of extending a prison sentence.

"All frivolous lawsuits unnecessarily clog the courts and unfairly burden the person having to defend against such a suit," Whitman said January 12 in a prepared statement. "However, under current law, no other person who files a frivolous lawsuit is subject to a loss of liberty as would a prisoner under this bill."

The sponsor of the bill, Sen. William Gormley (R) said the bill can be modified to eliminate the problem. "The nature of the change needed is minor," Gormley said. "That's why we have legal checks and balances, not to agree or disagree on issues, but to refine the issues so that they can withstand a legal challenge."

Other states, such as Florida, have passed laws that penalize "frivolous" prisoner litigants with loss of good time credits. Those laws, intended to alleviate the caseload of courts, may add to the judicial workload, at least while prisoners challenge the portions of those laws that penalize prisoners with loss of good time - and thus lengthen their sentences - merely for attempting to seek justice in the courts.

Sources: Corrections Digest, Tampa Tribune

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