April 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

A couple of weeks ago there was a news item about a woman who had to pilot a small plane to an emergency landing when her husband, who had been at the controls, had a sudden heart attack and collapsed. The story had a happy ending due to the assistance of a good-samaritan private pilot who took to the air, flew beside the first craft, and instructed the woman into a safe, but bumpy, landing.

Pro se litigants are like those untrained pilots who take the controls of their own aircraft. Only there is not a helpful, experienced pilot to guide them to a happy conclusion.  Most of them crash and burn, some fatally, others with considerable cuts and bruises, and all the worse for wear. Here are my 3 most recent experiences:

  • Man appears self-represented for temporary hearing, refuses the opportunity to negotiate with opposing counsel, and turns down any continuance. He sits mute through direct examination (heavy on leading questions), raising no objections. He has no questions on cross examination. After plaintiff rests, he says he has no testimony or evidence to present, after being told he may take the stand, or call other witnesses, or present any documentary evidence. Needless to say, the results were not in his favor.
  • Woman appears pro se in defense of DHS contempt action for non-payment of child support. She has filed no pleadings, but claims in her testimony that the child has been living with her, and that her income is reduced anyway, so that the child support ordered 9 years ago should be modified downward. I explain that she must file pleadings to put DHS on notice of her claims, and I recess the hearing to allow her to do that. I could have simply rendered a judgment against her, but … well … nevermind.
  • Man files pro se complaint for custody. At hearing he calls a single witness who testifies that he has never seen the plaintiff and the minor child together. It’s not clear to me how this helps promote his claim for custody. He then says he has no other testimony, even after I explain that he may take the witness stand and testify in his own behalf. Then he has a change of heart and says he has some papers he wants me to look at. One by one he offers several County Court judgments for child support for other children, which opposing counsel graciously allows in. Then the plaintiff rests. After the 41(b) motion is granted the defendant testifies and, based on her testimony I order visitation and award her the tax exemption for the child.

None of these top the pro se “partition” case I had several years ago. Both plaintiffs and defendant were self-represented. The plaintiffs’ pleadings asked for partition. At hearing, though, the proof was that defendant had lived in the home in which the heirs had an interest and had dismantled the fireplace. The plaintiffs wanted it restored or to recover their damages. I dismissed the complaint and sent them to County Court to pursue a lawsuit.

A Meridian air guardsman in the 70’s crashed his F-4 and suffered a broken back. As he was being wheeled on a stretcher into the hospital, a local tv news reporter stuck a microphone in his face and asked what had caused the accident. Through his pain the pilot replied,”I ran out of air speed, altitude and experience all at the same time.” That about sums it up.


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