Some people choose to represent themselves in court. This can be for a plethora of reasons including the cost of hiring an attorney, the type of case, or personal preference.
Remember, with criminal cases, you have a constitutional right to an attorney and with parental termination cases, you now have the right to an attorney in Utah. But, if you must represent yourself in a divorce, civil proceeding, or case with an administrative agency like the driver’s license division, for the sake of the court, its staff, and your time, consider doing the following.
Have your documents, correspondence, and timeline completed before court. Ideally, if you filed a petition, have your documents, correspondence, and timeline included in the Petition. You probably do not know the rules of procedure, but it’s better to have a coherent timeline of events with supporting documents than to just verbally say everything in a hearing. Bring four printed copies of everything you want to present to the court: a copy for you, the judge, the other party, and any witnesses. Number your pages: you can do this by hand.
The Utah Courts website, utcourts.gov, has forms you can use for district court. If you have a small claims case (for debts less than $10,000) go to the county office and ask for the proper forms to complete. Make sure to have copies of everything you file and to retain the original copies of any of your documents. You can also access the Online Court Assistance Program at your county courthouse or your personal computer and receive guidance through many different types of cases.
Ask for free help.
The court clerk cannot provide legal advice. However, Utah has a free self-help resource on the court website or you can call (888) 683-0009. An attorney answers this line and can help you with your questions.
The courts have specific rules to protect party’s constitutional rights including special notice and filing requirements. Call the Helpline or ask the court clerk what you need to do to file a document.
Court calendars are busy and judges, especially in our area, travel extensively to provide services to our communities. Just like any other situation, you make an impression on the court with your punctuality, decorum, and presentation, and sometimes mere presence. I won my first trial because the other party failed to appear.
Be polite and mindful.
Manners will get you far in a courtroom, even if you don’t have the legal knowledge. If you have a hearing, be respectful to the judge. Our judges are incredibly patient with individuals without attorneys as long as you listen and follow their instructions. In my experience, a judge becomes irritated if you interrupt him, continue speaking after he’s told you to stop, or you are disrespectful to the other party or anyone in the courtroom.
Understand the Outcome.
Depending on the type of hearing, your court date will have some of the possible outcomes. Status Conference: the parties give a simple update to the judge and schedule any future hearing dates. Evidentiary Hearing: is where the parties provide evidence against each other about a portion of the case and the judge makes a partial or full decision on the case. Pre-trial conference: planning issues for trial. Trial: parties present evidence and testimony and the judge makes final decision.
Disclaimer. As always, my column is not legal advice, instead merely insight into the law and legal profession. If you have a general question about the law or legal profession, please email me at email@example.com or call 435.610.1431.