The court clerk's office must file a document that complies with the rules of court, even if it appears that the document has no legal merit, said the Sixth District Court of Appeal in Voit v. Superior Court (Dec. 14, 2011, H037034), __ Cal.App.4th __ [2011 DJDAR 17898].
A civil suit was filed against the petitioner, who was incarcerated and indigent. Plaintiff tried four times to file a motion requesting the appointment of counsel but was rejected by the court clerk because (first time) he failed to enclose a filing fee, (second time) he failed to reserve a hearing date, (third time) the court "does not set a hearing date" for appointment of counsel in a civil case, and, (last time) "The court does not assigned (sic) counsels (sic) for civil matters; please cite or quote the precedent for further consideration."
The court of appeal found that the clerk's office violated defendant's rights to access the courts. If a document is presented for filing in a form that complies with the rules of court, said the court, the clerk has a ministerial duty to file it. The clerk's office has no authority to demand that a petitioner cite or quote precedent before a motion can be filed, and if the document contains defects, the clerk should file it and notify the party that the defect should be corrected.
In this case, the court noted that there is precedent allowing courts to appoint counsel for indigent inmates in civil suits, and whether the motion has legal merit is a question for the court, not the clerk's office. The appellate court issued a writ of mandate and directed the lower court to file and rule on the motion.