You are the captain of your own ship; the creator of your own destiny. Why not navigate the legal system as a pro se litigant? (Pronounced “pro-say” pro se is Latin for “on one’s own behalf”) Read on and I will direct you to a resource available to you that can provide basic knowledge of some skills you will need to have in order to succeed in Court.
Without the right navigational system, (radar, sonar, Google Maps, Rand McNally, GPS), you are bound to get lost. Court is the same–without the right “map,” you could find that you are on the wrong route. The sense of panic a lost traveler encounters when they misplace their passport is the same feeling a confused pro se party can encounter when tossed by the currents of the judicial system.
What is meant to preserve civility and prevent chaos often makes pro se parties feel disheartened, disadvantaged and distraught. Without forewarning, you could find yourself in the eye of a tumultuous hurricane, and I am not talking about the delicious grenadine spiked libation. You need a life preserver, some basic information.
What you need as a pro se litigant is a base knowledge of the rules of evidence, the rules of court procedure, and the law. What evidence is relevant? What procedure applies? Civil? Small Claims? Traffic? What is the law?
Court is where you go to fight a legal issue with your opponent. Court is adversarial. However, for this battle you will need to leave your joust at home, your horse in the barn and really think through your plan of attack to persuade the judge to your point of view.
Fortunately, for the pro se litigant, the Colorado Bar Association offers free information online. This website provides guidance to the pro se litigant by offering basic tools that you will need to present an effective case.
So, you visit the website, read the literature; outline your script; watch twenty episodes of Law & Order, and prepare a three-ring binder of information to present to the judge. You have read rules until your brain hurts. You’re ready.
You proceed to the courthouse and make your way to the right court room. If all goes well, the judge is there, your opponent is there, and your case is called on schedule. The judge sounds friendly, asks if you’re ready to proceed, and your mind goes blank. (Right about now would be a convenient time for an electricity outage or a fire alarm drill.)
However, because you have prepared for this adventure, you regain composure, make your opening statement and present your side of the story to the Judge. You make it through your day in court unscathed. The success or failure of your mission, in the end, will depend on how well you have prepared, and when it comes down to it, the Judge will tell you whether or not your mission was accomplished. In parting, my general advice is to cultivate your own sensibility and strategy toward fairness and always read the fine print. To borrow words from a mentor: Don’t bring a knife to a gun-fight. Good Luck and Carpe Diem.
Originally published in The Steamboat Local