May 29, 2013
Entering the lion's den when you don't know the rules
Pro se law suits

Read/Post Comments (2)

     My reader/litigant had filed a law suit pro se, (without a lawyer) against his County Commissioners. The Court ruled against him, saying he did not have "standing" and the case is now on appeal, still pro se. "Standing" basically means that the person filing "did not have a dog in that fight/skin in the game." It does not say that the cause was right or wrong, just that this person, for some reason was not qualified to file this action in that Court. Among the trial Court rulings, I am told, was a ruling that both sides are to "take care of their own costs."

     The litigant filed an appeal, still pro se. The County Commission has now directed their attorneys to file a motion in the appellate Court asking that their attorney fees be paid, and the reader/litigant's question to me had to do with that motion: Can the County Commission file a motion for attorney's fees this late in the game? "I don't think the county can legitimately file such a motion and doggone I can't find anything," [in the Rules to support my position] he said.

     A quick and concise answer is "Yes!" Any party can file any motion it wishes. It could be a close call, and would require the Court to spend time discussing the "pros and cons" of it, or it could be something that the judges agree is a "winner" or a "loser" for reasons that are obvious to them.

     If the motion were to survive challenges to its structure, or relevance in the issues raised before the appellate court, there could be facts that could favor, or work against, either party. One of the results of a possible win in the Court of Appeals is that the case be remanded (sent back) to the lower Court for trial. And the Court of Appeals might think it's only fair that the loser this time pay the attorney fees of the winner. It is not unusual for judges, on their own motion, to send a message to parties that, in the judge's mind, waste the Court's time with frivolous law suits or motions, by including costs in their order.

     People who file law suits pro se, and therefore have no attorney fees, are particularly vulnerable to motions by the defendant/respondents asking that the loser pay the attorney fees and costs of the winner. And those motions are filed as a matter of course by most attorneys representing the persons sued.

     If the written pleadings in this case were to be examined by a lawyer, together with recent rulings by the particular Court that will be making decisions, the lawyer would likely have an opinion as to which way the Court might go.

     My opinion is that a pro se litigant ought to at the very least have a local lawyer on retainer who knows the territory. The litigant needs to know the worst and the best things that can happen if he enters the Court system without a lawyer. And a lawyer who gives an opinion without reading the pleadings and checking the history of the particular judges and the parties is on dangerous ground.

Posted by Peggy S. Hedrick at 1:53pm

Click here to comment:

What is the old adage about a “lawyer” who has himself for a client”?
Posted by Charles Hedrick on 5/30/2013 at 9:25am

Very Sound Advice!
Posted by Kay Hedrick on 5/30/2013 at 7:24am