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Is it common for Judges in civil cases(evictions, small claims,etc) to show disdain or even favoritism against pro se litigants?

Jacksonville, FL |

I know there are rules & procedures for the courts & that both parties are supposed to follow. I know that an attorney will try just about what ever to win for his or her client. I respect that. The other party has to know the rules & make objections or file motions, whether orally or physically. Outside of using an attorney next time, outside of that, what can a defendant do about a judge who clearly does not like dealing w/pro se parties & even show favoritism against the pro se party in favor of the attorney. I thought Judges have these important cannons & ethical boundaries to follow? Or that everyone should be afforded access to the courts & treated fair? And this is not just a case of disagreeing w/judges ruling. I am going to appeal, but who do I contact to have them review what ha

Attorney Answers 4


Obviously, I wasn't there, so I don't have a clue about exactly what happened. So my answer is based solely on your comments and my own guesses. That said, in my experience, judges go overboard to HELP a pro se litigant, which I have always found annoying when I am representing the opposing party (for obvious reasons). However, if the judge displayed hostility to you, it was probably because you screwed up the case so badly by handling it yourself that it made the entire process tedious for all, especially the judge. So now you want to know who to contact to review what happened??? Are you serious??? You should have had a lawyer in court with you the first time, and then you may have walked out a winner, and you would not need to hire someone NOW to tell you what happened THEN. Unbelievable....

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In my observation, judges express disdain for those pro se litigants who make no effort to understand the procedural "rules of the game," or who try to act like TV lawyers, shouting about morality instead of focusing on proof relevant to the legal issue in front of them. There's a big difference between truth and proof, and judges are only allowed to consider the issues formally presented to them in advance.

In my state, judges are frequently required to give extra latitude to pro se litigants, particularly with regard to written pleadings, but the "important [canons and] ethical boundaries" are there to preserve the system itself. Translating our clients' positions into information that can be presented within that system is a huge part of what we do for a living.

I have seen cases in which litigants were successful in appeals claiming they were not afforded enough latitude when they represented themselves, but these cases are very rare. Arguing judicial bias requires a lot of proof. It sounds like you tried to save some money on a lawyer and lost big as a result.

I'm a lawyer, but I'm not your lawyer unless we sign an agreement. While my practice involves a wide array of national and international issues, I am licensed only in Louisiana- where the legal system can be unique. The brief informational response provided here is not a substitute for legal advice, and you may need to act promptly to preserve your rights.

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Eugene P. Castagliuolo

Eugene P. Castagliuolo


Great answer! So true!


My colleagues are spot on. Judges try to bend over backwards in an effort to give pro se litigants leniency while also holding them to the letter of the law -- as lawyers are. Pro Se litigants (and I've litigated against a few of them), are always at a disadvantage and frustrate the process because a lack of understanding about the most basic rules, i.e. the rules of evidence and how to introduce it as proper evidence, can really create a mess of the process. You wouldn't give yourself a root canal without going to dental school would you? Lawyering is not what you see on tv, and there's a reason why 3 years of schooling and a bar exam matter in this profession.

DISCLAIMER: Brandy A. Peeples is licensed to practice law in the State of Maryland. This answer is being provided for informational purposes only and the laws of your jurisdiction may differ. This answer based on general legal principles and is not intended for the purpose of providing specific legal advice or opinions. Under no circumstances does this answer constitute the establishment of an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice relating to your specific situation, I strongly urge you to consult with an attorney in your area. NO COMMUNICATIONS WITH ME ARE TO BE CONSTRUED AS ARISING FROM AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP AND NO ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP WILL BE ESTABLISHED WITH ME UNLESS I HAVE EXPRESSLY AGREED TO UNDERTAKE YOUR REPRESENTATION, WHICH INCLUDES THE EXECUTION OF A WRITTEN AGREEMENT OF RETAINER.

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My own personal experience was the reverse of my colleagues. Many years ago I filed a complaint for conversion - a tort - against a company as a pro se litigant (before I became an attorney). I was a paralegal at that time. I had properly researched the law, properly verified the facts, and submitted a well drafted complaint. At a mandatory mediation hearing before the judge, the judge proceeded to yell at me telling me that he didn't understand the complaint because I was not a party to the contract. Of course, I attempted to explain that this was a tort action and privity wasn't required, but the judge kept yelling and opposing counsel kept stating that I wasn't a party to the contract. In this situation, my sound legal argument was ignored in favor of credentials.

Conversely, I have also seen numerous situations where Judges have went to great lengths to help pro se litigants. Again, as a paralegal, I attended a hearing where the pro se litigate thought he could declare himself the sovereign of his own land in a HOA and thus did not need to pay taxes or HOA assessments. The judge spent almost two hours trying to get the pro se litigant to say something that would have allowed him to delay the foreclosure sale. Judges also routinely cut attorney's fees or delay foreclosure sales upon the request of the pro se litigant even when it is contrary to law. Thus, it seems to work both ways.

Personally, I think bias in either direction is a real problem. However, at the end of the day, the judge is human and sometimes they are frustrated with pro se litigants who waste resources with frivolous arguments and sometimes they are sympathetic and simply want to assist the pro se litigant. Complaints regarding the judge's conduct should be reported to the Judicial Qualifications Commission; however, for issues such as bias the correct procedure was to move to recuse the judge.

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