Every person has the right to represent themselves in court. A “pro se litigant” is a person who is involved in litigation but not represented by an attorney. Instead, the person represents themselves, also sometimes referred to as a “self-represented litigant.”
Court staff can help a pro se litigant understand how to do things. For example, court staff may answer questions about how the court works or explain what different words mean. The staff may also give you information from your case file and provide you with court forms and sample documents. Court staff cannot tell a pro se litigant what to do. Court staff cannot provide legal advice or research, or tell you what to request from the judge or court. See more information about preparing to represent yourself in court at:http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/Publications/proSeGuide.pdf
Some courts offer help to pro se litigants. For example, the Information Center at the Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court has computers for completing court forms and staff will provide general information about court procedures and forms. The Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court has a Pro Se Center that provides blank forms and reviews completed forms. Cleveland Housing Court has Specialists that will assist pro se litigants with information on housing issues and will provide sample forms, general assistance and other resources.
There are many online resources for pro se litigants. For example, the Cleveland Law Library website has a large page on resources for pro se litigants. See more information at: http://clelaw.lib.oh.us/PUBLIC/MISC/FAQs/Self_Help.HTML. In addition, the American Bar Association lists pro se resources by state and includes helpful articles, reports, court rules and other links. See more information at: http://www.americanbar.org/groups/delivery_legal_services/resources/pro_se_unbundling_resource_center/pro_se_resources_by_state.html#oh. See a list of resources in this newsletter and at https://lasclev.org/pro-se-forms/
When filing a case in court, you may be able to complete a poverty affidavit, which waives prepayment of fees usually charged to file documents with the clerk of court. The poverty affidavit must show that you cannot afford the filing fees. For more information and sample forms, see: https://lasclev.org/selfhelp-povertyaffidavit/
If you have to represent yourself in court, remember that pro se litigants must follow the same rules and laws as attorneys. The judge can provide some limited help, however. For example, you have the right to ask for clarification if you don’t understand something. If you are asked a question you don’t understand, you should say so. Just like attorneys, you must always tell the truth in court.
On-Line Resources for Pro Se Litigants
In the United States, people do not have a right to court appointed attorneys in civil cases when facing problems such as divorce, foreclosure, or eviction. People have no right to a free attorney for disputes with agencies about benefits, such as Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, Ohio Department of Medicaid, Social Security Administration or the Department of Veteran Affairs. In these situations, people who cannot afford to hire an attorney often must represent themselves in court or before an administrative law judge. The following resources can be helpful when preparing to represent yourself, or going to court “pro se,” as it is called when you do not have an attorney.
Cleveland Law Library
1 West Lakeside Avenue, FL4
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 861- 5070
Ohio Legal Services
National Center for State Courts Self Representation Resource Guide
Ohio Judicial Conference
Self-Represented Litigation Network
How to Research a Legal Problem: A Guide for Non-Lawyers
Keys to the Courtroom: A Pro Se Litigant Guide
American Judicature Society’s Pro Se Forum
Yale University’s Docket Research Guide (Information on how court docket’s can be searched)
This article was written by Vanessa Hemminger and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!