This week I had 2 hearings in Civil Court, both against individuals who represented themselves with very different outcomes. Self represented individuals are referred to as “Pro Se” (Latin for “for oneself” or “on behalf of oneself.” or if you are an attorney self-representing “fool for a client”). The Pro Se in hearing 1 was polite and respectful. The Judge was inclined to give him a break because he was trying to represent his own corporation in court, which you cannot do in Florida. Because he conducted himself properly and didn’t yell at the Judge or myself, he was given 30 days to find counsel instead of having a default judgment entered against his corporation, which the Judge was well within her rights to do. In many cases, the courts have wide latitude or “discretion” to make factual or legal findings. That hearing could have gone either way (just like many traffic stops) depending on the persons attitude.
Hearing 2 did not go so well for the Pro Se. He had filed a number of motions to extend time to respond to various filings asking for 30 days each time but did not set any of his motions for hearing and more importantly, the time periods he had requested were long gone. The hearing started out well enough. I have learned to not try and “over lawyer” a hearing with a Pro Se opponent and so I stuck to the four corners of my motion. Then the Pro Se started talking and talking and talking and …well you get the picture. While he was talking, and taking no responsibility or accountability by trashing my client, the Judge was looking at the file and his motions. It was downhill from there. The Pro Se got aggressive and the Judge just granted my motion. Then the Pro Se, over the phone, yelled at the Judge for about ten minutes. The Judge was courteous, gave me instructions on how he liked his orders drafted and submitted and ended the call. The Judgment was for $1.5 million dollars. The Pro Se could have controlled the outcome a little better by showing some humility rather than being aggressive or entitled. Judges have lots of discretion but they generally like to assist people if they can. Judges are people too and nobody wants to help someone who yells at them.
As a final note, I am old enough to remember when Judges were much harsher towards lawyers and litigants. There is always a little piece of me that feels like there is always the possibility of jail every time I go to court. Just remember, it is always more important to listen than speak in court and you can never be too courteous.