The required briefs, memoranda of law, motions, and pleadings are governed by rules that can be difficult for untrained individuals to comply with.6 Courts sometimes sanction unrepresented litigants who are ignorant of the law or become too emotional in the courtroom for not complying with court rules or for frivolous litigation.7 For these reasons and others, a litigant without an attorney is much more likely to fail than one who is represented.8
(4) A judge should accord to every person who has a legal interest in a proceeding, and that person’s lawyer, the full right to be heard according to law. Except as set out below, a judge should not initiate, permit, or consider ex parte communications or consider other communications concerning a pending or impending matter that are made outside the presence of the parties or their lawyers. If a judge receives an unauthorized ex parte communication bearing on the substance of a matter, the judge should promptly notify the parties of the subject matter of the communication and allow the parties an opportunity to respond, if requested. A judge may:
The judge in my case offered an angry and dismissive "Here we go!" when I argued that he must liberally construe the allegations in my complaint, as the 1972 Supreme Court precedent Haines v. Kerner dictates. He also disregarded the court's own local rules by denying my right to conduct my own voir dire of the prospective jurors, simply because I was proceeding pro se. He berated me in open court for my refusal to retain an attorney, and condescendingly informed me that he didn't think I would prevail at the trial. At various points, including when he urged me to accept the defendant's settlement offer, I felt he was trying to intimidate me simply because I chose to represent myself.
According to the National Center for State Courts in the United States, as of 2006 pro se litigants had become more common in both state courts and federal courts.[1] Estimates of the pro se rate of family law overall averaged 67% in California, 73% in Florida's large counties, and 70% in some Wisconsin counties.[1] In San Diego, for example, the number of divorce filings involving at least one pro se litigant rose from 46% in 1992 to 77% in 2000, in Florida from 66% in 1999 to 73% in 2001.[1] California reports in 2001 that over 50% of family matters filings in custody and visitation are by pro se litigants.[2] In the U.S. Federal Court system for the year 2013 approximately 27% of civil actions, 92% of prisoner petitions and 11% of non-prisoner petitions were filed by pro se litigants.[3] Defendants in political trials tend to participate in the proceedings more than defendants in non-political cases, as they may have greater ability to depart from courtroom norms to speak to political and moral issues.[4]
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