You have the right to represent yourself, without an attorney, if you so choose. However, you are still required to follow the Rules of Procedure, trial procedures and act and dress appropriately.
When you decide to represent yourself, you take on full responsibility for your case. You need to handle legal questions as well as deadlines, documents, evidence, witnesses, and any other issues that may come up.
Legal representation is more than filling out documents and filing them with the Court. An attorney understands the law and is trained to give you advice on the legal options available to you and the consequences involved with those options. When you bring a case to court without the help of an attorney, you are taking on a complex task that is normally done by highly trained professionals. Even matters that initially look simple may become complex. Attorneys can be expensive, but if your case goes badly and your interests aren't protected, paying for an attorney could be a good investment. Contact several attorneys and discuss their fees. You may also qualify for legal aid. In Monroe County, contact Southeastern Ohio Legal Services at 800-837-2630.
The following are some basic rules and hints. This information is not intended to be complete. You must reference the Rules of Procedure and the Monroe County Local Court Rules for complete information.
Familiarize yourself with the local court rules. Rules and procedures vary slightly from court to court, and you need to know the rules that apply to the Monroe County Common Pleas Court. See Local Court Rules under this website.
Make sure your filings and documents conform to local standards. Generic forms and sample filings are available in books and via the internet. However, these generic documents may not conform to the standards of our court.
Under Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 7(B)(1), An application to the court for an order shall be by motion...shall be made in writing...shall state the grounds therefore and shall set forth the relief sought. Pursuant to Local Rules, all original documents must be signed in blue ink. The Court does not accept facsimile filings. Letters to the Court do not constitute proper filings.
All documents filed with the Court must be on 8 ½ x 11 paper with straight edges, and legibly written or typed. All documents should include the case caption (Names) and case number.
Under Civ.R.5, service of filing of pleadings and other papers subsequent to the original complaint, shall be served upon each of the parties or the attorney by hand delivering a copy to the person to be served or by regular mail. A certificate of service/statement that you have sent a copy to the other party or their attorney must be included on your documents.
The appropriate court costs deposit must be paid at the time of filing documents. See Local Rules for costs.
Respond to all inquires on time. During the time you case is before the Court, you may receive inquires from the Court or opposing parties. If you fail to respond to such inquires in a timely fashion, you may limit your ability to present your case.
Rules about admissible evidence are complicated. There are many possible reasons that evidence or testimony you think is relevant and important may not be admissible in court. Since questions about what evidence is admissible are legal questions that are often contested, neither court personnel or the judge may answer them ahead of time.
Make sure evidence you plan to use will be acceptable. If your case will involve evidence - documents, pictures, costs, receipts, etc. - you must prepare it for court use. You must have a copy for the judge, opposing counsel and for yourself at your hearing or trial. You must be able to verify that the documents are what they say they are and contain accurate information.
Make sure any witnesses are prepared and available for court. If your case will involve testimony from witnesses, you need to make sure they know what you will ask and instruct them to answer truthfully. Your witness(es) must be present at trial and be prepared to answer questions from the opposing party or their attorney.
BE ON TIME. If you are not on time, your case may be called and the judge may make a decision without hearing your side.
DRESS NEATLY. You do not need fancy clothes, just make sure you are neat and clean. Tank tops, ripped jeans, sweat clothes are not acceptable. Hats cannot be worn in the courtroom.
DO NOT BRING CHILDREN WITH YOU TO COURT. It is acceptable to bring your child(ren) if it is a custody or visitation case and the judge needs to talk with your child. If you do bring your child(ren) for this purpose, plan on bringing another person who can watch your child(ren) while you are in the courtroom. In all other cases, find someone else to look after your child. Children should be not be present in the courtroom.
NO CELLS PHONES IN COURT. Cells phones MUST BE TURNED OFF while in the courtroom.
RESPECT THE COURT. Just like an attorney, you must be respectful to everyone in the court, including the judge, court staff and the opposing party. Stand when the judge enters or leaves the courtroom. When you speak, address the judge as "Your Honor". Do not speak while others are speaking. Speak to the judge only when you are told it's your turn. Never interrupt the judge.
SPEAK CLEARLY AND SUCCINCTLY. Be prepared to state your case in a few sentences. Listen carefully and answer questions directly. You want to present your case in the strongest way, but you want to help the proceedings move efficiently. The better prepared you are, the better the case will go.
THE JUDGE WILL DECIDE THE CASE ON THE FACTS PRESENTED IN COURT AND THE APPLICABLE LAW. The judge may only consider the facts as they are presented in court, through evidence and testimony. You need to make sure all facts supporting you case are properly presented. The judge also needs to follow the laws that apply. Sometimes the law dictates which facts the judge may and may not consider. You need to make sure you present the facts that the law requires or permits.
JUDGE'S RULINGS. Decisions are not always given right away. In most cases, you will receive the judge's decision in the mail within a few weeks. In some instances, depending on the judge's case load, it may take longer for your case to be determined. Do not contact the judge's office to ask whether a decision has been issued. You will get a copy of the decision as soon as it's been filed. You may, however, contact the Clerk of Courts to see if a decision has been filed.