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If Representing Oneself, Ten Things to Never Say in Court

Judges prefer to interact with attorneys, rather than those who represent themselves.  One reason is certainly that attorneys are educated in law school to understand what issues matter.  Another reason is that attorneys generally respect judges more than those who are not attorneys and therefore, attorneys are more careful with what they say to judges.
What to Take Away:   The following article should be read by anyone representing oneself and is even a good reminder for attorneys representing others.  The main point is that respect for the judge and judicial process will go a long ways toward being persuasive with the judge and even a prosecutor.
For those who represent themselves and are not attorneys, we present ten things to never say in court because of the adverse response it may elicit from the judge.
1.    “Judge, it appears you just don’t understand this other jerk or you did not read my brief.”  This is disrespectful to the judge, as it is condescending, disrespectful to the other party and suggests the judge is lazy or stupid for apparently not agreeing with or possibly truly not reading the brief.
2.    “I want to state this for the record . . .” when there is a court reporter diligently recording everything said anyways.  The comment implies that the self-represented person is saying to the judge, in a disrespectful tone, “mark my words!”  It also implies that the self-represented person does not think the judge is listening.  Worse yet, sometime a self-represented person will utter this “throat clearer” when there is not even a court reporter, implying that he or she implores the judge to write it down and think about it deeply later.
Torrance CourthouseTorrance Courthouse
3.    “I’m going to appeal!”  This can be interpreted as a threat, which is audaciously unwise, and very unlikely to make the judge change his or her order.  Moreover, if the case requires the judge to exercise his or her discretion to determine the credibility of one party versus another, such a ruling is not appealable. 

4.    “Whatever.  I’m good.”  This type of casual, “Millennial-speak” is ambiguous and could be perceived as sarcastic toward the judge.  Does this mean the speaker agrees or disagrees or even understands what the judge stated?  A more formal demeanor is appreciated and more respectful as well. 
5.    “Huh?  Oh yeah . . .”  This is also too informal and unprofessional as well.  The correct way to express this instead may be, “Your honor, I apologize.  I missed what the Court just said.  What did the Court say?”

6.    “I oppose the continuance because there is at least one other attorney in that firm, so some one else can just handle the trial.”  This implies that attorneys are all interchangeable.  It also implies that the judge could order any random attorney picked out of the State Bar to handle the self-represented person’s case with no risk of poor performance, which is absurd.  Remember, judges are distinctly aware of the differences between attorney experience levels, education levels and persuasive skills.

7.    "This is an ex parte application for Pro Haec Vice admission of an out of state attorney.”  No statute allows ex parte application for admission.  One can bring an ex parte application for an order shortening time for a pro haec vice application under California Rule of Court, Rule 9.40.  The rules controlling an ex parte application for an order shortening time are at Code of Civil Procedure § 1005.

8.    “I need a continuance of the [previously stipulated to] trial date because I have a pre-paid vacation during that time” or “I need a trial continuance [to the date previously stipulated to] because my expert / key witness is unavailable at that time.”  This is problematic because the stipulated trial date is not subject to continuance and before being stipulated to, the party is agreeing not to continue it and that all witnesses and experts agree to be available during that time.

9.    “I need a continuance of the trial date because the other side has not given us critical documents.”  This argument begs the question of why the self-represented party did not bring a motion for discovery to compel the production of such documents.

10.    “Actually, your honor, I am only saying this because I read it online from an attorney’s website.  I actually don’t know what it means.”  This has been said too many times in court, each time displaying an admission or confession of sorts that the self-represented party is both so cavalier about representing himself or herself, and yet also careless about what they say in court.  This makes the judge obviously consider this person a time waster, which cannot help his or her credibility.
In short, representing oneself can be a culture shock, as well as very difficult because there are many procedural and substantive rules that one must know.  The judge will often admonish someone that he or she should not expect to receive more leeway (or even sympathy) by representing oneself.

For more information about representing oneself, please click on the following articles:
  1. What Should I Wear and Bring to Court?
  2. Do You Need a Hearing Delayed for More Time to Prepare?
  3. Why Hire a Private Attorney?  Why Shouldn’t One Use the Public Defender?
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