Judges typically have no training in how to cope with unrepresented litigants who may have mental illnesses, or are in the grip of powerful but unfounded feelings that the system is biased and working to hurt them. Unhappy litigants can pose physical danger to judges.23 Handling cases with unrepresented litigants and writing decisions that can be understood by them takes longer, putting pressure on already full workdays. Unrepresented litigants tax the system and the resilience of judges. Stressed out and overwhelmed judges cannot do their work well.24
The BIGGEST mistake pro se litigants make is thinking they know more than they do, as a way of overcompensating for lack of confidence. False bravado can lead you into mistakes #2, #3, and #4 on this list and a whole lot more. You don’t bring a court reporter because you don’t feel you need one. You don’t do research because you don’t have time, and you think you know enough. You react to or challenge every lawyer trick because you believe, without any evidence, that it’s the best thing to do. You talk about admiralty law, not because you know anything about it or where it fits into your case, but because you heard someone talk about it. You file the wrong motions in the wrong situations. It’s important to know what you don’t know and act accordingly. Instead of talking about sovereign citizenship, talk about and use civil procedure. Rather than reacting to lawyer antics, judicial bias or a sense of unfairness, focus on your case. Learn it backwards and forwards, and then bring your court reporter. That’s how you win. See Sovereign Citizens Make Pro Se Litigants Look Silly for more about the “problem” with sovereign citizens.
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Judges also support greatly increased funding for lawyers in civil cases for litigants who cannot afford representation out of self-interest. Most local and state judges are elected or appointed to serve for a specified term, to which they may be either reelected or reappointed.21 They are periodically evaluated by the public or the appointing authority. Judges perceived as showing partiality – for example, by providing permitted assistance to unrepresented litigants – may lose elections or reappointments. Judges’ careers can be marred by complaints from unrepresented litigants who, because they do not have the benefit of legal advice, have unreasonable expectations about courts and law.22 The presence of lawyers on both sides of a case insulates judges from perceptions of impartiality and from litigant complaints.
Shauna Strickland. Virginia Self-Represented Litigant Study: Outcomes of Civil Cases in General District Court, Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court, and Circuit Court. (December 2017). This report characterizes Circuit Court civil cases by analyzing caseload composition, the presence of legal representation, the level of case contention, and case outcomes.
Appropriate action may include direct communication with the judge or lawyer, other direct action if available, reporting the conduct to the appropriate authorities, or, when the judge believes that a judge’s or lawyer’s conduct is caused by drugs, alcohol, or a medical condition, making a confidential referral to an assistance program. Appropriate action may also include responding to a subpoena to testify or otherwise cooperating with or participating in judicial or lawyer disciplinary proceedings; a judge should be candid and honest with disciplinary authorities.
When a judge determines that an organization to which the judge belongs engages in invidious discrimination that would preclude membership under Canon 2C or under Canons 2 and 2A, the judge is permitted, in lieu of resigning, to make immediate and continuous efforts to have the organization discontinue its invidiously discriminatory practices. If the organization fails to discontinue its invidiously discriminatory practices as promptly as possible (and in all events within two years of the judge’s first learning of the practices), the judge should resign immediately from the organization.
There are, however, a number of limitations that courts impose upon pro se litigation. In Minnesota, for example, organizations such as corporations or other businesses cannot represent themselves, although Conciliation Court allows pro se representation with proper written authorization. Corporate entities are considered in the eyes of the law as a separate individual and generally need to be represented by legal counsel, rather than an individual or even the proprietor of the business. However, more obligations and obstacles on courts and litigants in connection with pro se litigation.
Conversely, pro se litigants who make mistakes lose day in and day out, even with minor infractions. This is most often due to lack of knowledge, but judicial bias and lawyer tricks add another layer of peril. Lawyers know how to avoid default judgments, dismissals, and summary judgments. Pro se litigants rarely do. Lawyers skillfully “handle” pro se opposition. Most pro se litigants don’t handle lawyers or their own cases. In the end, most lose and they do so very quickly.
The inconsistent character embodies a contradiction that isn’t just a jumble but a tension that can resolve into something else. The confidence-man is trust and mistrust at once, a number of different people in one, an impossible ability to transform—and also the exact symbol of an emerging market society, the no-man and everyman you need to both trust and mistrust in order to exist under capitalism. But, in another intrusion, Melville asks:
Canon 4. Complete separation of a judge from extrajudicial activities is neither possible nor wise; a judge should not become isolated from the society in which the judge lives. As a judicial officer and a person specially learned in the law, a judge is in a unique position to contribute to the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice, including revising substantive and procedural law and improving criminal and juvenile justice. To the extent that the judge’s time permits and impartiality is not compromised, the judge is encouraged to do so, either independently or through a bar association, judicial conference, or other organization dedicated to the law. Subject to the same limitations, judges may also engage in a wide range of non-law-related activities.
Also, I don’t know what this obligation is to give access to justice that is apparently on the shoulders of individual lawyers. I only know of the 6th Amendment right to an attorney for defendants in a criminal trial, in which case any lawyer could be appointed to represent a defendant; I know of no other obligation to make legal services available to everyone on demand. But you can’t seriously tell me that you don’t pit pro se litigants against lawyers and publish the articles you do. I know some lawyers who are pretty burnt out dealing with pro se nonsense, and I know some who are more generous to those who play lawyer for themselves, but when your opposing counsel is a pro se litigant who can’t distinguish you from your client, or doesn’t understand why you’re representing your client vigorously and then goes on the defense, you wish you could just tell them what is obvious to you: it’s not about them. For example, I might be hesitant to encourage Tanya here to represent herself since she doesn’t seem to understand the difference between pro bono and contingency and statutes and case law, and that she hasn’t actually found any case law yet before deciding to pursue her lawsuit on her own and presenting what may be a matter of first impression, but that’s not my business…
In Study 1 we found that self-affirmation increased feelings related to state self-compassion, and these feelings statistically explained how self-affirmation increased pro-social behavior to a shelf-collapse event. Self-affirmation also increased desire for charitable giving, but we were not able to shed light on the process explaining this effect in Study 1. And notably, although Study 1 was appropriately powered to test main effects of self-affirmation on self-compassion and helping outcomes, it was underpowered to test potential mediating pathways. Nonetheless, Study 1 provided the first test of sensitive pre-post-affirmation changes in affective mechanisms (including self-compassion) of behavioral helping to a shelf-collapse incident (see Figure Figure11). Our results provide preliminary evidence that self-affirmation increases compassionate feelings compared to the control writing exercise. In accordance with the self-compassion perspective, affirmation increased compassionate feelings (e.g., sympathy) but also decreased self-criticism dimensions (e.g., critical; consistent with theoretical accounts of self-compassion, Neff, 2003a). Though our results do not suggest that feelings of love or connection or general positive affect mediate the effects of self-affirmation on pro-social behavior, we can not definitively rule out that possibility.
A pro se litigant is an individual who is representing himself in a civil court action. While the law allows nearly anyone to be a pro se litigant, and to appear in court on their own behalf, there are some limitations. For example, a pro se litigant, or self-represented litigant, cannot represent others. This places certain limitations on pro se representation, such as:
Does my ex have a child custody lawyer? Although the justice system permits parents to represent themselves, we often advise parents to reconsider self-representation if the other parent will be represented by counsel. Parents represented by counsel could be in a more advantageous position. An attorney who understands family law will have specific knowledge that a lay person may lack.
^ Kay v. Ehrler, 499 U.S. 432, 435 (1991), citing Gonzalez v. Kangas, 814 F. 2d 1411 (9th Cir. 1987); Smith v. DeBartoli, 769 F. 2d 451, 453 (7th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1067 (1986); Turman v. Tuttle, 711 F. 2d 148 (10th Cir. 1983) (per curiam); Owens-El v. Robinson, 694 F. 2d 941 (3d Cir. 1982); Wright v. Crowell, 674 F. 2d 521 (6th Cir. 1982) (per curiam); Cofield v. Atlanta, 648 F. 2d 986, 987-988 (5th Cir. 1981); Lovell v. Snow, 637 F. 2d 170 (1st Cir. 1981); Davis v. Parratt, 608 F. 2d 717 (8th Cir. 1979) (per curiam).
Telling someone “Trust me” is usually a dead giveaway that they should do exactly the opposite. A trustworthy person doesn’t need to insist on it. Professions of the need for trust are a pretty good sign that someone is trying to sell you something. Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade, the last novel he published in his lifetime, which met with scathing and uncomprehending reviews, plays around with this theme. It’s a disorienting string of loosely connected scenes, tracking the schemes of a shapeshifting trickster aboard a Mississippi steamboat who solicits his fellow passengers through a variety of pitches, always insisting on the need for confidence in the goodness of the world.
The Connecticut Supreme Court narrowed criminal defendant's right to self representation, stating that "we are free to adopt for mentally ill or mentally incapacitated defendants who wish to represent themselves at trial a competency standard that differs from the standard for determining whether such a defendant is competent to stand trial". A Senior Assistant State's Attorney explained that the new standard essentially allows judges to consider whether the defendants are competent enough to perform the skills needed to defend themselves, including composing questions for voir dire and witnesses.