Whenever a self-represented litigant comes to court, there’s potential for a gangsta party. Almost by definition, we are breaking the rules by showing up without a lawyer. Sure, the U.S. Constitution says we have the right to petition government — interpreted to mean we can represent ourselves in court — but we’re not meant to take that seriously. Or rather, we’re meant to take it only as seriously as we take our other rights, which is to say not at all.
So for instance, you have freedom of speech and a right to due process unless you’re Anwar al-Awlaki or someone else whose words the government can’t tolerate. You have freedom from unreasonable search and seizure until the police want to serve a drug warrant in the middle of the night. You have the right to bear arms, unless of course you’re Black, in which case you can’t even bear a toy gun.
The same standards apply to your right to access the courts. You can have your day in court as long as a lawyer is there on your behalf. (And not just any lawyer, mind you, but a good lawyer.) This is common sense for most of us. When you’re sued or need to sue someone, conventional wisdom says to either get a lawyer or forgo your legal rights because you can’t expect a fair hearing on your own. That’s why representing yourself in court is so gangsta.
The deck is stacked against us gangstas, no doubt. But we have some advantages if we know how to use them. For instance, we aren’t required to obey the many unwritten rules lawyers must follow to move a case along. Yet we have the same abilities to raise legal issues and file motions as anyone else. Does the other side’s lawyer have a conflict? Does the judge? Does an expert witness have a credibility problem that would bar their testimony? Did the process server make an error in serving you with the complaint? Right or wrong, if raising these issues could help you strategically, then do it. Lawyers are at least ostensibly bound by the Rules of Professional Conduct, but we are not.
And while there are growing numbers of competent pro se litigants in the courts, the bias against us is still very real. But it’s a double-edged sword. When we show we know the rules of civil procedure and can form a decent legal argument, we tend to get our way from judges who expect us to be clueless.
So when the judge tries to bum rush you at the first hearing, shut it down with the rules and let her know you’re not here for that. Unless it’s clearly in your interest, allow no shortcuts; make everyone adhere strictly to the notice of hearing. When the lawyer on the other side moves for summary judgment or moves to dismiss your case, get the legal research to defend your position and be prepared to tear him apart in court. Know the outcome you want, stick to your strategy, anticipate the other side’s moves, and knock them off their game.
Just as a gangsta never hooks up with another gangsta without a piece, you never ever ever go to court without a court reporter. You never let a judge believe you’re unwilling to take it to a higher court. Whenever you prepare for a hearing, you take the attitude that it ain’t nuttin but a gangsta party. You’re going to show up like you own the case.
Let 2Pac and Snoop Dogg show you how to represent yourself in 2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted (warning – profanity):
We all have a bit of the gangsta. The trick for the pro se litigant is to take that gangsta into court. Plead your case with confidence, assertiveness and passion at every step of the way. Do whatever you can get away with and don’t bow down. Always remember the place wasn’t made for us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t own it. As I’ve said often, winning is not always a ruling in your favor. It could be judgment for less than you owe, or a longer time in your home, or more time with your kids than you’d have otherwise.
Have you been a G in court? Share in the comments if you’ve ever turned a courtroom into a gangsta party.