Self-Represented or Pro Se Litigant Notice and Procedures

A self-represented or pro se litigant is a person who appears in Court without the assistance of a lawyer. If you have questions or concerns about filings, instructions, the use of forms, or your legal rights, it is strongly recommended that you speak with an attorney. If you do not know an attorney, you should call the Lawyer Referral Service at the Bucks County Bar Association for competent, knowledgeable and experienced legal counsel.

The information set forth below should not be construed as legal advice and is not a substitute for professional legal advice. In no event will the Court be liable for any direct, indirect, or consequential damages resulting from the instructions below listed. The people who work with the Judge are not lawyers and are not permitted to provide any legal advice.

1. Communication with the Court

Ex parte communication is communication with the Judge with only one party present. Judges are not allowed to engage in ex parte communications except in very limited circumstances; therefore, absent specific authorization to the contrary, you should not speak with or write to the Judge in your case unless the other party is present or has been properly notified and copied on all communication(s(.

If you have something you need to tell the Judge, you must ask for a hearing by filing a written motion or pleading with the Court. You must also send a copy of the written motion or pleading to the other party. This includes enforcement of Court Orders.

2. Guidance for Trial/Hearings in Court

Burden of Proof: The person who filed the lawsuit is called the plaintiff or petitioner. If you are the plaintiff/petitioner, you must prove you should win based on the law and the facts.

The person who is sued is called the defendant or respondent. If you are the defendant/respondent, you will have the opportunity to present your side. You may present witnesses or exhibits at the trial to prove your case subject to admissibility under the Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence. Exhibits may be contracts, emails, texts, photographs or the like. You should bring enough copies of each exhibit to the trial – one for the Court and one for each party.

It benefits you to have an attorney: Either side can hire an attorney prior to the trial. An attorney is trained in the law and evidence and can help you prove your case. The attorney also understands the Rules of Court and knows when to object to something the other party may present to the Court. Both sides should seriously consider retaining a lawyer.

The Court understands you may determine you are not able to afford an attorney. You will have the right to speak for yourself in Court if that is what you choose to do. The Court will be fair to both sides regardless of whether they have an attorney as the Court only seeks to determine the facts and law to apply to your case.

3. Procedure of the Trial/Hearing

The plaintiff/petition presents his or her case first. If you are the plaintiff/petitioner, you may present testimony yourself or call witnesses. The defendant/respondent may question you or your witnesses. Everyone must show respect and be polite in the courtroom, which means no yelling, cursing, rude comments, or name-calling. Only one person may speak at a time as the Court reporter is transcribing the proceeding. The parties may ask questions of other witnesses. Questions are who, what, when, where, why, and how. You cannot testify yourself while a witness is under oath on the witness stand. Do not make personal comments about the witnesses or what they say. If you have exhibits to present at the trial, you or your witnesses will identify them.

The defendant/respondent will present his or her case after the plaintiff/petitioner finishes presenting all of his or her witnesses and exhibits. If you are the defendant/respondent you may testify and/or have witnesses testify as well and present your own exhibits. The other side will then have the opportunity to question all of your witnesses. If you have exhibits to present at the trial, you or your witnesses will identify them.

Rules of Proof:

• There are rules regarding the proof you can use during trial to prove your case. They are called the Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence and are available online.

• There is an important rule regarding hearsay. Hearsay is when you say what you heard from someone else. It cannot be presented at trial. In most instances you may only testify about what you know or saw. You cannot testify about what someone else knows, saw, or told you.

• There are many rules about proof. You may not know all these rules unless you are an attorney. You may not know when to object to the other side’s proof. The Judge cannot act as your lawyer. The Judge can stop a witness if the testimony is not helping to explain the case or is simply repeating what another witness has already testified.

 The Judge does not take sides. The Judge will be fair, treat everyone in the same manner, and give each party the opportunity to tell his or her story subject to the guidance herein.

4. Recommendations for Court Conduct

Recommendations for how to act in Court are the same for both sides:

• Only one person may speak at a time, so wait until they have finished speaking or asking their question.

• Do not talk or argue with the other side once the trial begins.

• Show respect and be polite to the Judge, other parties and witnesses.

• No yelling, arguing, cursing or name-calling.

• Do what the Judge and courtroom staff asks you to do while in the courtroom.

• This is a Court of law. If you do not show respect and civility, it may adversely impact your case. If you disobey the Court or act inappropriately, the Court may find you in contempt which could result in sanctions including fines or jail.