We hate to see a pro se litigant pay the other side’s attorney fees. It doesn’t happen often because a decent judge will forgive the minor procedural slip-ups of a non-lawyer. But it does happen, and sometimes for good reason.
In a recent federal case, M2 Tech, Inc. v. M2 Software, Inc., the pro se defendant (who’d earlier sued the other party) slipped up pretty bad. M2 Software had a trademark on “M2” that M2 Tech repeatedly infringed. The sole owner of M2 Software, David Escamilla, sued M2 Tech on behalf of his company. That was the first no-no. For anything beyond small-claims court, a company must be represented by a lawyer. So M2 Tech got the case dismissed on that basis.
Rather than checking the law and seeing his error, Escamilla appealed the decision, again acting pro se, and lost badly. That was the second no-no.
M2 Tech then sued M2 Software, the trademark holder, to get an order declaring its use of the trademark acceptable. Again acting pro se, Escamilla tried to intervene in the case and filed a motion to dismiss M2 Tech’s complaint (no-no #3 there). But his company never answered the complaint (aaaand no-no #4). The judge denied his motion to intervene, and based on M2 Software’s default, granted M2 Tech’s declaration of fair use.
Because of Escamilla’s egregious behavior, the judge also awarded attorney fees to M2 Tech, to be paid by M2 Software. M2 Software got an attorney at that point and appealed the attorney fee award. Acting pro se, Escamilla appealed the judge’s refusal to let him intervene. Both Escamilla and his company lost their appeals.
The moral of the story — Your company is actually a separate person, so don’t try to represent it unless you’re a lawyer. And when you lose a case, find out whether the judge was clearly in the right before appealing the decision or repeating your mistake in another case.
By the way, while there’s no danger of having to pay the fees of a state or federal prosecutor, going pro se in a criminal trial is particularly dangerous if you don’t know your way around a courtroom. We wish this congressman’s son the best of luck if he’s innocent. Of course, if he loses, there’s always an argument for ineffective assistance of counsel on appeal.