Should I Represent Myself In Court?
I have often found that individuals attempting to act as their own attorney eventually contact me to represent them as it became clear that they were not succeeding in their case. For some, they realized rather quickly that they were in an environment over their heads, similar to “a fish out of water”.
Here are a few examples of things that can go wrong when you attempt to be your own attorney:
1. You don’t know what you have to prove. In negligence cases, you must prove a breach of the standard of care. For instance, if your vehicle is rear-ended in an automobile accident, you must prove more than that your vehicle was struck in the rear. You may need testimony that the defendant was driving at an excessive speed under the circumstances or was inattentive because he/she was talking on a hand-held cell phone or did not have his/her vehicle under control or many other breaches of the standard of care. Next, you need to show that you have injuries that were caused by the accident. Your testimony should be that you broke your foot as a consequence of the behavior of the driver whose vehicle rear-ended you and that the treatment you received was reasonable and necessary and that your time off from work was not only caused by the accident but also was reasonable and necessary.
2. You don’t have knowledge of the “rules” that must be followed during the proceeding. The opinions stated in Item 1 above may be introduced in district court by medical records and bills as long as Maryland Rules 10-104 and 10-105 of Courts and Judicial Procedures are closely followed, including providing notice to the defendant 60 days before the trial date and providing the defendant with the actual medical records and bills. In the circuit court, when your case is seeking in excess of $30,000, your evidence must cover all of the above elements plus the physicians must give their testimony that all of their opinions are to a reasonable degree of medical certainty or probability. Without the physicians’ opinions expressed as above, the opposing counsel/attorney may seek to have the physicians’ testimony stricken from the case, resulting in your loss of the case.
Introducing cell phone records and text messages, your employer’s employment records, or pension records must follow the Maryland Rules of Procedure as well. The problem with these records is meeting the rules of evidence to prove that the records are authentic and reliable. These types of records are called “hearsay records”, meaning that you want to prove that the records were made by someone who is not present at the trial and to prove that what is stated in the record is true. Considerations by the Court are reliability of the record, truthfulness of the record, and that the opposing attorney or party did not have an opportunity to cross-examine the preparer of the records. There are ways to still introduce these records, for instance by subpoenaing the Custodian of Records to come to trial to testify that the records you are introducing are a true and correct copy of a records that (a) were made at or near the time of the occurrence of the matter; (b) were made by a person with knowledge of those matters and/or from information transmitted by a person with knowledge of those matters; (c) were made and kept in the course of the regularly conducted activity or business; and (d) were made and kept by the regularly conducted business activity as a regular practice. Bringing the custodian of the records to court could be a considerable expense, however. In one case, the bank requested that we pay $600 in advance. That amount, although it may occur, in not typical.
Another means of authenticating your records is to take a records deposition of the Custodian of Records and to have the custodian sign a Certification, under oath, that the records are authentic. (See the paragraph above for the required contents of the certification.) Yet another option is to have the opposing party admit (stipulate) that the records you are introducing are authentic.
3. You receive treatment from a physician unfamiliar with the medical-legal terminology necessary to support your damages. Your case is much stronger when your treating physician states in your medical records that all of his/her opinions in those records are stated “to a reasonable degree of medical certainty or medical probability”.
Presented above are very limited examples of knowledge that you need to have if you decide to represent yourself in court and of knowledge that may result in winning your case. We do not recommend that you represent yourself. You may remember what Abraham Lincoln once said: “He who represents himself has a fool for a client”.
Fred Antenberg has been in practice for over 30 years in Howard County, Maryland, and has been successful in trying cases and in negotiating the resolution of cases by filing suit and by hiring mediators and arbitrators.
Call Fred at 410-730-4404 for a Free Initial Consultation.