Some pro se litigants are intelligent and sophisticated. I recall one individual who represented himself in a case that proceeded to jury trial. He proved quite capable, and the verdict was in his favor. In other cases, the pro se parties are long on emotion and short on knowledge regarding law and procedure. This puts the judge in an uncomfortable position.
Do your homework and educate the court. It is important, at the outset of a case, for trial counsel to determine if he or she is litigating against a wolf in sheep’s clothing. “When the pro se litigant is really an expert litigant, the court’s sympathy for his presumed inexpertise diminishes markedly.” Scott L. Garland, “Avoiding Goliath’s Fate: Defeating a Pro Se Litigant,” Litigation, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Winter 1998), at 45, 50 (1998). A search of the county or state docket may reveal that the pro se party has actually been involved in numerous lawsuits and maybe has even been deemed a vexatious litigant. Armed with this knowledge, counsel is better equipped to handle both interacting with the self-represented party and convincing the court that the pro se party’s failure to follow the rules warrants sanctions.
An individual’s right to represent himself or herself in federal court is expressly codified in 28 U.S.C. § 1654 (2018), which provides: “In all courts of the United States the parties may plead and conduct their own cases . . . therein.” Similarly, many states have codified the rights of pro se litigants in their respective constitutions and statutes. Drew A. Swank, “The Pro Se Phenomenon,” 19 BYU J. Pub. L. 373, 375 (2005). Indeed, according to the Supreme Court, there is “no evidence that the . . . Framers ever doubted the right of self-representation, or imagined that this right might be considered inferior to the right of assistance of counsel.” Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806, 832 (1975).
Jim Traficant, a former U.S. Representative from Ohio, represented himself in a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act case in 1983, and was acquitted of all charges. Traficant would represent himself again in 2002, this time unsuccessfully, and was sentenced to prison for 8 years for taking bribes, filing false tax returns, and racketeering.
Other voices in the citizenry must join with the judiciary to ensure that adequate funding is available to provide lawyers to the indigent and to develop mechanisms to make lawyers affordable to moderate income individuals. Lack of action will devastate the justice system. That will leave the rule of law in ruins, shattering the foundation of American democracy. Any other course will diminish the respect and moral standing the United States has enjoyed as a leader of democratic governments.
For the many millions of unrepresented litigants appearing in American courts each year, mastering the rules of the adversarial system is next to impossible.5 Such litigants often do not understand the rules of evidence, and so cannot understand what facts are relevant or how to present them to a judge. An attorney opposing an unrepresented litigant is more likely to withhold evidence favorable to the litigant who is unlikely to know that such evidence must be turned over or to ask for it.
Aside from her family appellate matters, Christa has also been successful in small claims. In 2017 Christa brought a pro se complaint against an auto body repair shop after it made faulty repairs to her vehicle. The shop hired an aggressive attorney, but Christa successfully pushed the case to a settlement for the full amount of her claim. Although Christa cannot and will not offer legal advice, she genuinely engages with her clients, is always happy to lend a listening ear and to share her own pro se experiences. Christa encourages her customers to educate themselves of the system and the laws which she believes results in an empowered and confident pro se litigant.
But this passage reminds us of the continuing tradition of morning dress for the Solicitor General’s office before the Supreme Court. If it already looked stupid in 1948, it definitely looks stupid now. Adhering to tradition for the mere sake of tradition is small-minded. After Elena Kagan dumped the practice — since wearing what is essentially a tuxedo is less than flattering for a woman — there was some reason to believe it would join powdered wigs in the dustbin of American legal history. No such luck.
Every Supreme Court Justice is in charge of a judicial circuit in the country. The justices and the Judicial Conference of the United States should make each federal judge understand that they are expected to treat pro se litigants with respect and without disdain. They should make clear that judicial councils will take complaints seriously if judges behave in a prejudicial manner toward litigants who represent themselves.
But in the course of my experience, it became very apparent that the deck was stacked against me just because I was proceeding pro se – that is, representing myself, without an attorney. It's hard enough for a layman to win in court as it is, but the apparent disdain and discrimination that courts and judges show toward pro se litigants make it that much harder.
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Within the boundaries of applicable law (see, e.g., 18 U.S.C. § 953) a judge may express opposition to the persecution of lawyers and judges anywhere in the world if the judge has ascertained, after reasonable inquiry, that the persecution is occasioned by conflict between the professional responsibilities of the persecuted judge or lawyer and the policies or practices of the relevant government.
Why file a Pro Se complaint? As the chair of an advocacy group called the Disability Action Crew (DAC), I have lots of information to help others advocate for access. With every question I get asked about advocacy, it seems I often end up with more questions that go unanswered. It's like a coach trying to beat a team that makes all the rules as the game goes along. He's out there, he's trying to win, but every time he goes for the goal there's a different set of rules. Advocacy's like that‹we don't know the rule of winning access until we break them. And we look to authorities for the answers: the DOJ, the EEOC, the HRC, the DOT.
Show your best face to the world--whatever that means for you. When you feel comfortable in your own skin, everyone knows. If you like to go out in a dress and heels, or a well-cut suit, go for it. If you prefer to stay comfy in a pair of sweats and flip-flops, there's no shame in that either. Dress how you want. The You'll undoubtedly exude confident, assuring energy.
He said his interest in the law started 30 years ago when he was a teacher at Michigan City Area Schools and was in a battle with the district over a grievance. He felt one of the school's attorneys hadn't treated him fairly, telling him first he should go to arbitration and then claiming arbitration was illegal after they ruled in his favor, Vukadinovich said. Since then, he slowly started learning about the law, first reading a dictionary of legal terms and then moving on to books about the law.
The Supreme Court noted that "[i]n the federal courts, the right of self-representation has been protected by statute since the beginnings of our Nation. Section 35 of the Judiciary Act of 1789, 1 Stat. 73, 92, enacted by the First Congress and signed by President Washington one day before the Sixth Amendment was proposed, provided that 'in all the courts of the United States, the parties may plead and manage their own causes personally or by the assistance of counsel.'"