Representing yourself in court is a serious and often terrifying prospect. The court system can be confusing and intimidating to even the most seasoned attorney, much less the general public. In this two-part series, you will find useful information to help you feel more comfortable if you intend to represent yourself in court. Part 1 discussed general rules and definitions applicable to many cases in Hamilton County. Part 2 discusses court procedures for filing a case and seeing a case through to completion.
A note on self-representation...
You have the right to represent yourself in any court proceeding. However, the case could have long-term consequences and you may wish to consult with an attorney to provide you advice and guidance through the process. This guide is intended only as a basic explanation of court terms and etiquette. The information provided is not legal advice and is not a substitute for advice from a licensed attorney. If you decide you would like an attorney to represent you, a list of resources to help meet your needs can be found at the bottom of this guide.
The following is a general rundown of court procedures. For detailed information pertinent to your jurisdiction and venue you should consult the Rules of Civil Procedure for your state and Local Rules for the venue.
Any paperwork that is filed with the court must also be provided to the other party. It is your responsibility to make sure that the paperwork is provided to the other party, not the court’s. This is called service. There are generally three methods of service:
- Certified Mail – a method by which a letter is sent though the mail and the recipient must sign a receipt confirming delivery of the letter.
- Sheriff – someone from the Sheriff’s office will hand-deliver the documents to the other party for a fee. Speak with your local Sheriff’s office for fees and procedures.
- Publication – If you do not know the whereabouts of the other party, you must still make a reasonable attempt to notify them by publishing the summons in the local newspaper. Publishing in the newspaper is only available as a last resort for serving a Summons. Talk to your local court clerk for the procedure and paperwork.
To file a case:
You must file your paperwork with the clerk of courts. The clerk will require multiple copies of several of the forms, so call ahead to find out how many copies you will need.
The clerk, the law library and the staff at the court house cannot help you fill out the forms, nor can they tell you which forms you will need. Depending on the form, it is likely a fill-in-the-blank version will not be available. Common pleading forms and instructions can be found on the clerk of courts website or the website of the court of your jurisdiction (for instance, Domestic Court and Probate Court both have their own websites in Hamilton County). Other forms may be found in books at your local law library.
Most sample forms are only general, generic examples of possible formats and contents. Legal requirements for assignments, leases, contracts and many other business documents can and do vary greatly from state to state and county to county and can change often. To be valid - and not create more problems than they solve – forms must be properly drafted and modified to fit your specific location and circumstances.
When you file your paperwork with the clerk, there will be a filing fee that must be paid by the person filing the paperwork. You should call ahead to see what forms of payment they accept. You may request a fee waiver if you cannot afford the filing fee. Whether the amount will be reduced or waived altogether is up to the judge. You will need to follow the procedures of the court to request a fee waiver
Every time you file a motion with the court, you must serve it on the other parties and include a proposed order for the court to sign. Some courts may require you to include addressed, stamped envelopes for the judge to send signed orders to all parties involved in the case and their attorneys if they are being represented. Check your local court rules for procedures for this.
The judge and court staff must remain impartial. They cannot help you or the other party to argue a case. They cannot give advice or opinions on what you should do and they cannot talk to you outside of court. Any document that you wish to be read by the court must be submitted as evidence following the proper procedures.
Court staff are generally able to answer factual questions, questions that begin with “Who”, “What”, “When”, “Where”, and “How”.
Finding an attorney
Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati (513) 241-9400
Lawyer Referral Service (513) 381-8213
Women Helping Women
Pro Seniors Inc. (800) 488-6070
United Way of Greater Cincinnati Telephone: 2-1-1