Q: While I was incarcerated I had a Public Defender representing me. After I was released from serving my Parole Violation I reapplied for the PD but was told my wife makes too much. Unfortunately, even at a discount, I cannot afford an attorney. I am already at the trial stage. I have two separate cases being tried and I refuse to take a plea since I am innocent on both cases and I will not let them bully me into a longer record and more time on probation or parole! If I must represent myself then I shall, I am not afraid to put in work on my cases! I only need to know what procedure or motion or petition I need to follow or submit in order to represent myself! I know each county in Pennsylvania can be slightly different and my county (Fayette) seems to follow their own rules, but I know I am afforded the right to represent myself by the US Constitution and they can’t deny that. (Uniontown, PA)
A: No one can advise you what to do without knowing all the facts and all the applicable law. You can probably find a lawyer to work with you. When I was a young lawyer, one of my first jury trial was done at a drastically reduced rate for a career criminal who had learned the law on the job, so to speak, while spending time in state correctional facilities. We ended up with a hung jury the first time, and an acquittal on the retrial. If you want to do this yourself, pro se, all I can say is read, read, read and reread the law. Go get em!
Q: My husband and I are PRO SE on a case going to compulsory arbitration in Allegheny County. Will they (the arbitrators) just let us talk about what happened, or will we have to question each other? Also, how do we address the arbitrators? (Swissvale, PA)
A: Arbitration panels in Allegheny County are composed of three attorneys from the legal community who are bound to follow state law and procedure. Most panels allow pro se litigants a little slack regarding conformity with the rules of civil procedure. However, I have seen panels apply the rules rigidly and cut people off for not complying with Rule 1305, attempting to admit documents that are not authenticated, or attempting to introduce hearsay statements. If this happens, a pro se litigant can find their case going south before they even know what hit them. Will you do better with an attorney? Most likely. Can you get by without one? Possibly.
CIVIL LAW, ARBITRATION, RULES OF PROCEDURE, PRO SE
Q: Is it recommended that I have a lawyer when going to an Allegheny County arbitration hearing? This hearing is for an appeal to a small claims court ruling.
A: It is highly recommended if you can afford it. It is called Arbitration and has a jurisdictional limit of claims 50K and lower and your case is heard by a panel of three attorneys instead of a judge or formal. Although it appears somewhat less formal than a judge or jury setting, the rules of civil procedure and evidence still apply. The person who knows these rules has the upper hand which generally means those who are represented will do better. This is especially true if the other side has an attorney. If that is the case, the other attorney can limit your testimony with objections based on the rules of evidence, such as foundation, hearsay, lack of discovery notice, etc. If the other side has no attorney, some arbitration panels will help you and the other litigant sort out your problem, and try to do justice, although don’t take that for granted. Even if the Arbitration Board is that gracious, you still may lose your case based on your lack of knowledge of the rules of procedure and rules of evidence.