With one of the highest profile Supreme Court lawyers now at his side, and with abundant apologies, Bobby Chen, a New York man who succeeded in the rarest of opportunities for a non-lawyer, is trying to get his case reinstated before the Court. Beating the odds, he had succeeded in getting the Justices to grant review of his self-prepared petition — only to find later that the opportunity had vanished, because the Court could not locate him.
Washington attorney Paul D. Clement, a former U.S. solicitor general and seasoned Supreme Court advocate, has become Chen’s lawyer in Chen v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, a case that originated when Chen protested that city officials in Baltimore had destroyed a house he owned there. As his case reached the Justices, that part of the dispute was not at issue: the sole question focused on a judge’s power to extend a deadline for a party in a federal court civil case to file legal papers with the other side.
There is a split on that issue among lower courts, and that is likely why the Supreme Court on November 7 agreed to hear Chen’s case, allowing him to proceed as an unrepresented litigant for whom legal fees would be waived. But when it came time for Chen to file his formal brief on the merits on the filing deadline issue, he missed the deadline and the Court could not find him. It then dismissed his case, on January 9.
Chen’s only apparent option, after he returned from a trip to California and learned that his case had been cast aside, was to ask the Court to reconsider the dismissal and move ahead to decide the case on the merits. He set about preparing a rehearing petition, but then decided to seek legal help.
Advising the Court that Chen was a victim of circumstances, and had no intention of abandoning his case or of failing to obey all the rules for a litigant before the Court, newly retained attorney Clement said that there is no reason why the Court should not go easy on Chen — as it often does for those who pursue their own legal claims without a lawyer.
Moreover, Clement said, with an experienced lawyer at his side, the Court will have no difficulty keeping in touch with Chen through his lawyer, and all necessary papers will assuredly be filed from here on, so the case should be reinstated; the issue still needs to be resolved. The Court has now scheduled the rehearing petition for consideration at the Justices’ next private Conference, on February 20.
The rehearing petition said that Chen had made a business trip to California last year, before he knew that the Court had agreed to hear his case. He planned to remain on the trip for only a short time, and return home, but he was injured in a slip-and-fall incident, and his return was delayed until late in January, according to the filing. He attempted to keep in touch with the Court about his case during the trip, but that did not work out, the petition said.
After returning from his travels, he learned that his case at the Supreme Court was dead.
After signing on, Clement filed Chen’s rehearing petition on February 3.