No matter how many times you read this book and how carefully you prepare, you will probably feel anxious when you represent yourself in court, especially if your opponent has a lawyer. Perhaps it will help you if you know that you aren’t alone. Many professionals feel anxiety—particularly before a first performance—whether they are lawyers about to begin a trial, teachers about to teach a class, or actors about to perform on stage. So take a deep breath and gather up your courage. As long as you combine your common sense with the principles and techniques described in this book, and are not afraid to ask a court clerk, a law librarian, an attorney, or even the judge for help if you become confused, you should be able to represent yourself competently and effectively.
There is a kind of greatness which does not depend upon fortune; it is a certain manner that distinguishes us, and which seems to destine us for great things; it is the value we insensibly set upon ourselves; it is by this quality that we gain the deference of other men, and it is this which commonly raises us more above them, than birth, rank, or even merit itself.
From the prison library, Gideon appealed to the United States Supreme Court, stating that, because he was denied counsel, his Sixth Amendment rights had been violated. In its 1963 ruling, the Supreme Court held that representation by counsel, even by defendants who cannot afford to hire an attorney, is a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution. The opinion further stated that, because the Sixth Amendment does not distinguish between capital and non-capital offenses, the services of an attorney must be provided for an impoverished defendant in all criminal cases.
When lawyers provide substandard representation, unhappy clients can seek relief from state disciplinary authorities and legal malpractice lawsuits. But a pro se litigant’s ability to fix mistakes made by online websites and non-lawyer advisers is much more limited. And the risk of getting inaccurate information may increase when pro se litigants communicate with online businesses in writing, rather than with lawyers in face-to-face meetings.
Good prep for litigation is hard work, like reading cases and statutes and writing concise, precise and persuasive motions and pleadings. Even then, the “tactics in the courtroom” you mention can still go on. So, mentality can be just as important as hard tangible work. Understand that lawyers want to win too, and they’ll do whatever they think it takes to do so. Cutting the ethical edge is just a day at work for some of them. Your job is to not get up in your feelings about any of that stuff. I know that’s difficult to do, and I struggle with it all the time, but it does not help you win. Do the work, understand your arguments and stay on point.
There are some notable records of pro se litigants winning more than $2,000 as plaintiffs: Robert Kearns, inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper who won more than $10 million from Ford for patent infringement; Dr. Julio Perez (District of Southern New York 10-cv-08278) won approximately $5 million in a federal jury trial from Progenics Pharmaceuticals for wrongful termination as a result of whistleblowing; Reginald and Roxanna Bailey (District of Missouri 08-cv-1456), a married couple, who together won $140,000 from Allstate Insurance in a federal jury trial; George M. Cofield, a pro se janitor, won $30,000 from the City of Atlanta in 1980; and Jonathan Odom, a pro se prisoner, who while still a prisoner, won $19,999 from the State of New York in a jury trial. Timothy-Allen Albertson, who appeared in pro. per., was awarded $3,500 in 1981 in a judgment by the San Francisco Municipal Court entered against the Universal Life Church for defamation by one of its ministers.
All judges are subject to the Code of Conduct for United States Judges. The Clerk of Court and Clerk's Office staff members are subject to the Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees. Part of the codes of conduct prohibit Clerk's Office employees from accepting any gift, without exception, from anyone seeking official action from or doing business with the court or from anyone whose interests may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of official duties. This prohibition includes accepting any sort of holiday gift, whether intended for the Clerk's Office as a whole or for a specific individual.
The center’s approach, known as “limited-scope legal assistance,” can fill an important void. Most federal courts devote substantial resources to pro se litigants, such as handbooks and staff time answering process questions, and pro se staff attorneys help judges process cases. But court staff may not give legal advice to litigants, and although private lawyers offer some volunteer assistance, they cannot meet demand.
If you want to appeal the denial of some benefit that is provided through an agency of the United States government or the state of Idaho, you must pursue all of the administrative procedures which are set up by the agency before you can bring a lawsuit. Only after you have pursued and exhausted the administrative procedure will the court have jurisdiction to hear a claim.
In a criminal case, a defendant is entitled to legal counsel by the United States Constitution and one can be provided if indigence is shown on the part of the defendant. However, in a civil case, the plaintiff is not entitled to an attorney. There are organizations that can help obtain counsel in civil matters for nominal fees or even on a volunteer basis. The Idaho State Bar has a referral service that lists attorneys who belong to the Idaho Volunteer Lawyers and they are willing to help indigent parties in several different ways. Legal Aid Services is also available as well as the American Civil Liberties Union. There are also attorneys who would be willing to represent you on a contingent fee basis where the attorney collects a fee only if money is won in the suit.
A trial is defined as "a judicial examination of issues between parties to an action." The parties each get the opportunity to present their side of the case, and the judge and jury (if the trial is a jury trial) are responsible for entering a verdict and judgment based on the evidence and arguments presented. It is the judge's duty to see that only proper evidence and arguments are presented. In a jury trial, he also instructs the jury which will be called on to make decisions regarding those matters at issue and then a judgment is entered based on the verdict reached by the jury. Local Rule 58.1.
However, it is not limited to your employment alone. You can do good things by being of service to others in your everyday life as well. You can volunteer, donate, or simply take the time to perform simple acts of kindness for the people you encounter each day. If you can go to bed each evening knowing you have been kind and helpful, that you’ve worked hard, and did things to make life better for yourself or others, confidence will never be a problem for you.
Table 3C relies on the same data but considers the win rates of different types of litigants based on the total number of policies that the district court has implemented rather than which particular policies the court has implemented. Table 3C thus seeks to test the slightly different hypothesis that there may be a cumulative benefit from implementing these policies even if none is individually impactful.
Administrative law judges (often called “ALJs”) preside over administrative hearings. ALJs are typically appointed based on their expertise concerning the work of a particular agency. Most ALJs are not in fact judges; some may not even be lawyers. Moreover, administrative hearings typically take place in small officelike hearing rooms rather than in courtrooms, and no juries are present. Usually, individuals involved in administrative hearings represent themselves. However, whereas only lawyers can represent people in court, agency rules usually allow nonlawyers called “lay representatives” to appear on behalf of individuals in administrative agency hearings. If you will participate in an administrative hearing, you may want to prepare for it by at least conferring with a lay representative before the hearing takes place.
Many years ago, after winning a motion, an older judge asked me to stay behind after the parties left. He took me aside and said simply: "I want you to know that the case before yours today was to protect a little girl who's grandfather thinks it's fun to extinguish cigars on her legs." I knew what he wanted me to know, and I never forgot. Other people's cases are serious, too.
You might expect lawyers who disrespect their professional colleagues to be even more disrespectful of pro se litigants. If an adversary’s lawyer tries to intimidate you, keep your cool. Look to the judge for help, and don’t try to out-bully a bully. Perhaps realizing that most lawyers and bar associations disavow bullying tactics can help you do so.
As a general rule, the judges surveyed stated that a pro se litigant must comply with the rules and orders of the court, [and] enjoy no greater rights than those who employ counsel. Although pro se pleadings are viewed with tolerance a pro se litigant, having chosen to represent himself, is held to the same standard of conduct and compliance with court rules, procedures, and orders as are members of the bar. A party’s pro se status does not require us or the trial court to assume he must be led by the hand through every step of the proceeding he initiated.
The EDNY pro se office has two primary functions.119 First, the magistrate judge’s pro se office—comprised of staff attorneys and administrative office employees—proposes initial orders to the assigned judge, including to dismiss or to direct the litigant to amend the complaint, and responds to inquiries from the judge’s offices about the cases. As part of these initial duties, the office gives procedural advice to individuals about filing and litigating their claims by answering questions and making forms and instructions available. Second, the magistrate judge automatically oversees all pro se cases that survive screening, handles pretrial matters, and presides at trial with the parties’ consent.120 These reforms do not exactly mimic those discussed in the FJC Survey and evaluated in the empirical analysis above. However, they do include a number of efforts similar to those evaluated in
Examples Only. The forms do not try to address or cover all the different types of claims or defenses, or how specific facts might affect a particular claim or defense. Some of the forms, such as the form for a generic complaint, apply to different types of cases. Others apply only to specific types of cases. Be careful to use the form that fits your case and the type of pleading you want to file. Be careful to change the information the form asks for to fit the facts and circumstances of your case.