Brian Vukadinovich represents himself in court better than most lawyers could, and he has receipts.
Usually at this time each month, I praise an attorney who’s been friendly to self-represented litigants as part of our Lawyers We Love™ series.
Brian is not a lawyer, but I can’t think of anyone in the business of litigation who deserves more applause.
In 2013, Brian sued an Indiana school board and several school administrators for due process violations when they refused to renew his teaching contract.
I shared his story earlier this year, when he’d just completed the jury trial.
Two weeks ago, the judge in the case issued a final order blasting the school board, and it’s a doozy. Among other sharp passages, Chief Judge Philip Simon of the U.S. Northern District of Indiana wrote this:
Based on the evidence presented at trial, a reasonable jury could have found that the process afforded Vukadinovich was insufficient to satisfy the requirements of due process. One glaring issue for the defendants at trial was the fact that no one could point to the clear, uncontested, and uncontradicted reason that Vukadinovich was terminated. In fact, the testimony of the defense’s key witnesses—Biggs and Kaiser—was inconsistent and, at times, nonsensical. The evidence showed that the School was playing a game of Whack-a-Mole with Vukadinovich—they would tell him one reason for his termination and when he would try to dispel it, they would then come up with another reason.
The problem with the School’s wishy-washy explanation of the reason for Vukadinovich’s termination was magnified at trial when the jury was able to consider the credibility of Biggs and Kaiser. Recall that Vukadinovich was acting pro se, and when he was questioning Kaiser and Biggs, they were both extremely evasive and combative, often responding to his questions with a query of their own or by repeatedly asking him to define what are otherwise commonplace terms. It was an excruciating exercise to observe, especially when they put up no such fight when questioned by defense counsel. These theatrics were not only distracting and off putting, but they also added flavor to the argument that the reasons the defendants gave for Vukadinovich’s termination were pretextual.
To put it bluntly, after several years of presiding over this litigation, including a five day jury trial, I cannot tell you why Vukadinovich was terminated. The jury surely must have sympathized with Vukadinovich, who simply wanted a straight-forward explanation for why he was being let go. In the end, it was reasonable for a jury to look at the mess of contradictory evidence and courtroom theatrics and conclude that Vukadinovich was not given a sufficient explanation of the reasons for the decision to potentially terminate him and, therefore, a meaningful opportunity to respond, all in violation of his right to due process.
I doubt the school board will appeal, which means Brian will soon see a fat paycheck for his efforts.
I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to hear of Brian’s success, not just for him but for all of us. Every victory like this makes the next judge we face more receptive, less biased, more capable of giving us a fair hearing.
I’ve told Brian that if more of us could handle a courtroom the way he does, we’d have a justice system that worked for everyone.
He’s far too experienced at pro se litigation to need Burlington Avenue’s services, but he has kind words for us nevertheless. Here’s what Brian wants you to know:
I was able to represent myself and win a major jury trial in federal court resulting in a six figure verdict against my former employer for violating my federal due process rights but it was very difficult. I felt confident that I would be able to win my case because I had substantial years of experience in pro se litigation and I knew what to expect. I am well aware of the great services offered by Burlington Avenue and I would highly recommend that any persons thinking about representing themselves in court contact Burlington Avenue for the proper guidance you will need to successfully represent yourself in court.
— Brian Vukadinovich
Brian has some projects in the works that may help self-represented litigants perform better, but they’re not ready for public disclosure yet and I won’t scoop him. Just know you can expect to hear about it here first!
Thanks to Brian Vukadinovich for being a model pro se litigant, and for making sure there’s at least one federal judge in Indiana who knows what we can do.