Make plain-English information about how to navigate in the court available to the public. All court procedures can be explained in plain English. Nolo Press, other self-help law publishers and the Maricopa County Superior Court have proven that this is so. Unfortunately the courts systematically refuse to inform self-represented litigants about available private-sector publications, apparently on the ground that they don't want to be seen endorsing them. Fair enough. But the courts should then follow the lead of the Maricopa County Superior Court and make plain-English guides available to all.
It is not the purpose of this chapter to teach the pro se litigant legal research and writing nor is it our goal to sort out the complexities of applying the law, whether it be statutory or case law, to the facts of a particular case. The law prohibits personnel in the Clerk's office from providing information regarding the application of the law to the facts of any case. The intention here is to provide information that is basic to a law library to be used as a guideline.
Turner, the most recent Supreme Court ruling on the rights of civil pro se litigants, threw an unexpected twist into this line of cases and provided fodder for both proponents and detractors of the expanded right to counsel for civil litigants. In Turner, all nine justices agreed that the state was not required to provide counsel in a civil contempt hearing even if the contempt order would have resulted in incarceration.41 Nonetheless, a five-justice majority overturned the sentence, holding that the state must “have in place alternative procedures that ensure a fundamentally fair determination of the critical incarceration-related question.”42 The Court highlighted a “set of ‘substitute procedural safeguards’”—for example, notice about critical issues in the case, the use of forms to elicit relevant information, and other potential protections—that could stand in for assistance of counsel and ensure the “‘fundamental fairness’ of the proceeding even where the State does not pay for counsel for an indigent defendant.”43
Conference: are required to explore the possibility of settlement prior to trial. At any time after an action or proceeding is at issue, any party may file a request for, or the assigned judge on his own initiative may order a settlement conference. A conference is then held before an assigned judge who facilitates the parties to come to settlement. All information provided to the settlement judge is confidential.
In the years since this book first appeared, the number of people representing themselves in civil court cases has continued to grow. A recent collection of statistics by the National Center for State Courts shows that the vast majority of family law cases involve at least one, and often two, self-represented parties. In California, over 4.3 million people using the courts are self-represented; in New Hampshire, 85% of civil cases in the trial court involve at least one self-represented party. Many courts report an upsurge in self-representation. (Memorandum on Pro Se Statistics, 9/25/2006, National Center for State Courts, available at www.ncsconline.org/WC/publications/memos/prosestatsmemo.htm.) Other research indicates that at least one party was self-represented in more than two-thirds of domestic relations cases in California and in nearly 90% of divorce cases in Phoenix, Arizona, and Washington, DC. (See Jona Goldschmidt, et al., Meeting the Challenge of Pro Se Litigation: A Report and Guidebook for Judges and Court Managers, A Consumer Based Approach (1998).) These studies are substantiated by many civil court administrators and judges, who estimate that the number of self-represented
Another common reason a defendant might choose pro se representation is the cost involved in hiring an attorney. If the defendant does not like the attorney that the court provides, it might cost them a significant amount of money to hire a private defense lawyer. Saving money is perhaps one of the greatest advantages of pro se representation. However, often times the defendant might be saving money at the risk of losing their case because they are unequipped to argue on their own.
Defense counsel will have to prepare defense witnesses so they respond politely and directly to tedious, often incomprehensible questions from the pro se plaintiff. If a defense witness loses his or her temper, or appears to be condescending to the pro se plaintiff, the jury will certainly find against any testimony given by the defense witness, even if the jury does not necessarily agree with the plaintiff’s view of the case.
Some still remain skeptical about pro se reform. Commentators have argued that unfair advantages for pro se litigants correspond to unfair disadvantages for their opponents in civil proceedings, that tweaking the court system specifically for pro se litigants undermines the rule of law, and that reforms may lead courts to devote more resources to cases that often prove frivolous.61 Other detractors of trial-court reform for pro se litigants have opposed it on opposite grounds, arguing that these reforms may be counterproductive and harm pro se litigants62 or that they don’t go far enough and that civil Gideon is needed to fully protect the rights of pro se litigants.63
Variations Possible. A form may call for more or less information than a particular court requires. The fact that a form asks for certain information does not mean that every court or a particular court requires it. And if the form does not ask for certain information, a particular court might still require it. Consult the rules and caselaw that govern in the court where you are filing the pleading.