Representing Yourself in Court
Representing Yourself in Court
The Court is a very traditional place. When you are representing yourself in Court, you are trying to persuade a judge that you are right. So you must act, dress and speak in a way that helps you with your case. Here are some tips:
BE ON TIME
What will happen if you are late?
- Your case can be dismissed
- The judge may make a decision without hearing your side
What to do if you are late?
- Call the Court ask to speak with the clerk of the Judge assigned to your case. Ask the secretary to tell the Judge why you are late & when you expect to arrive.
- The message may not get to the judge on time. The judge may decide you do not have a good reason to be late. So try not to be late.
- You do not need fancy clothes; just make sure you are neat and clean.
- Tank tops, shorts, or ripped jeans are not acceptable. T‑shirts or hats with messages such as “Legalize Marijuana” or “Where’s the Beef,” while funny, are not acceptable for court
- Do not wear hats
- There will be a security check so leave concealed-carry weapon, etc. at home.
- How you act is as important as how you look. Just like an attorney, you must be respectful to everyone in the Court including the judge, court staff and the other party involved in your case.
- Do not speak while others are speaking. Do not argue with the other side. If you disagree with what the other side is saying, wait until he or she is done and then tell the Judge.
- Speak to the judge only when you are told it is your turn. Address the judge as “your honor.” Never interrupt the Judge.
- Try to control your emotions as much as possible, especially anger.
DO NOT BRING CHILDREN WITH YOU TO COURT
- In a custody or visitation case you may be requested to bring your child if the Judge, Magistrate or your lawyer requests it. In all other cases, find someone to look after your child.
NO CELL PHONES IN THE COURT
- Turn your phone off when you enter the court. Ringing phones are very distracting. It may make the judge mad which will not help your case!
What to Expect When You Arrive at the Courthouse
Check in at the clerk’s office to find out which courtroom to go to. Go into the courtroom. Sit quietly until your case is called. You may have to wait, be patient.
- If you are late, go up and let the clerk or bailiff know that you have arrived.
- When your case is called, walk to the table or podium for lawyers in front and stand facing the judge. The judge will tell you when to speak.
- When the judge asks you to present your case, tell the judge what it is that you are requesting and why you are requesting it. After you are finished, the other side will have a chance to ask you questions.
- Next, the other side will present his/her case. Don’t forget, if you disagree with something the other side says, do not interrupt. You will have an opportunity to ask the other side questions when he/she is finished talking.
- During the hearing the judge may ask you questions.
- If you don’t understand the question, say so. Don’t answer until you fully understand the question.
- If you don’t know the answer, say so. Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know something.
- Decisions are not always given right away. In most cases, you will receive the judge’s decision in the mail within two weeks.
Do not try to talk to the judge about your case before your case is called.
The law prevents the judge from talking to one party if the other party is not present (unless the case is currently before the court). This one-sided conversation is called an ‘ex parte communication’ and it is illegal.
Any letter, motion or request you send to the court will be ignored by the judge (because it is an ex parte communication) unless you send a copy of that letter or request to the opposing party as well.
For example: If you write to the judge requesting that the court date for your hearing be changed, you must send a copy of this letter to the opposing side or their attorney, if they have one, and let the judge know that you have done this. Otherwise the judge will not even read your letter.
Do not ask court staff for legal advice.
Court staff are not attorneys and cannot provide legal advice. More importantly, they are employees of the court and must treat both sides in a case fairly. It is unfair and illegal for them to help one party and not the other.
Court staff can answer questions about court procedure, court rules, and the meaning of certain legal terms.
This article is meant to give you general information and not to give you specific legal advice.Prepared by Community Legal Aid Services, Inc. Updated May, 2012. CE-SH-F277-CLAS