First Things First
Now that you’ve decided to learn how to represent yourself pro se in your legal matter, look at your schedule and set aside blocks of time each week to study and research and write and ‘build’ your case.
The very first thing to do is to know what you are facing. Are you being sued or divorced? Do you want to sue or divorce? Are you being charged with a crime? Will your case be in state or federal court?
Next, begin gathering the “controlling” law for your case: the laws (statutes, codes, ordinances) violated, the rules (state or federal) of civil, criminal, or appellate procedure, and the court’s rules (state or federal) where you will be filing. In most states, these can be found right online.
For example, let’s say you are served with divorce papers in Le Sueur County, Minnesota. Family law matters take place in the state courts and are civil actions. Go online to google.com (or startpage.com or any search engine) and search “Minnesota divorce laws,” “Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure,” and “Minnesota First Judicial District Court Rules.” In each search, look for “PDF” copies of the laws and rules pertinent to your jurisdiction, and download them to your computer. Next, read them, at least enough to know how to respond, where to respond, and, most importantly, the deadline for responding.
For another example, let’s say you are clearly deprived your right to modification of your child support order in Colorado by the Jefferson County Child Support Enforcement office. Although your rights were violated in a family law matter, your claim will most likely be filed in the federal courts in Denver, under federal code “42 U.S.C. § 1983 [Title 42 of the United States Code, section 1983] Deprivation of rights under color of law.” In this case, search “42 U.S.C. § 1983,” “Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,” and “United States District Court Rules for the District of Colorado.” Download the laws and rules to your computer, read them, and note the process and deadlines for filing and serving your lawsuit.
If you are being sued or charged with a crime, also search the statutes under which the claim is made.
The “controlling law” of your case is very important, as it controls the process and outcome. It tells the judge whether his or her court has jurisdiction and is the proper venue, and it tells the judge and/or jury what laws were allegedly violated and, if successful in prosecuting your case or defending an action against you, what remedies are available.
Set up a main file on your computer for your case, and name it like this: Plaintiff v. Defendant; and once it is filed, put the case number with the name if you wish. Inside the main file, open another file and name it “Controlling Law.” Put your PDFs and other downloads in your Controlling Law file.
And finally, create a document for all contacts associated with the case. Include names, addresses, telephone numbers and any other contact information for all parties (and their attorneys, if applicable), the clerk’s office where you will be filing, and everyone else that will be involved in the case. Put this contact list in your main file.
Now, you are ready to begin drafting your response or “motion” or “complaint.”
Lesson #3 will cover the basics of writing court documents.
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