how to represent yourself in district court

Landlord suing you?  Tennant not paying rent?  Here are some tips for navigating the situation well.

1. Protect yourself while being a reasonable human-being living on planet earth.

The situation can be challenging or simple and is likely a mixture of the two.  The key to making it as simple as possible is acting promptly and maintaining thorough records.  Do everything in your power not to be a dick because its a better way to live and often proves favorable if a legal action develops.  Judges have a lot of discretion to decide certain issues and can always consider “fairness,” which is sometimes called equity.

2. Consider the costs of various actions, inactions, and reactions.

Outcomes are never certain in the beginning and in the end, are certain.  You need to balance the prospect of costs with the prospect of a favorable and unfavorable court determination.

The Court charges a fee to file the paperwork opening a case against a person or entity.  Then to actually begin the case you must have, and often must pay, a person to physically deliver the paperwork to the person or agent of the entity.  If you cannot find the person or cannot find out where that person resides, you must get permission from a judge to give that person notice that you are suing them by putting an add in the newspaper–costing $2k at minimum.  While you have the calculator out, add in gas and parking to physically get to the courthouse on likely 2-5 separate occasions, then subtract your wages if taking off work.  And, in some situations you have to pay for the other side’s attorney’s fee if you lose.

The list of costs keeps growing.  Time must be considered. Consider the time aways from work, family, or anything else you’d rather be doing.  Consider the time you are taking from the court, which is already over-busy at the expense of a few cases that truly require judicial determinations.

Inaction may cost you because you may be sleeping on rights that cannot be enforce after a certain time.  If being sued, a judge will rule against you if you don’t show up.

Reactions also have costs and varies widely with the situation.  You might impair or destroy a relationship you later wish you still had in good standing.  You might get a bad reputation, which in addition to the possibility of traditional media attention, it could now get picked up by social media and go viral.  People have lost friends, careers and opportunities from negative social media attention.  A final judgment against you drains most the negotiating power you had before a final decision.

Unfortunately, you might be wrongfully sued, which is a form of senseless terrorism.  And, unfortunately, you may have to sue, because, and they say, war is for peace.

3) Take a moment to understand court rules

In addition to taking your hat off and silencing your phone in court, there are rules that govern how you interact with the judge and your adversary.  Google “Hawaii” + [the court you are in, for example, Oahu district court] + [the thing you are trying to do, like “serving a complaint”]. Look for an official website with the court rules.  Read and try to understand them.  Sometimes their written poorly and you’ll need to read more than once.  You can lose opportunities simply by not following the rules.

4) Summary judgment can be both bitch and lover.

The purpose of trial is to ascertain a set of facts, both sides present their version of the story.  But, if both sides agree on the important facts (this is our contract, here is how shit hit the fan), then a judge can rule without a trial.  This is summary judgment, meaning there is no need for trial to establish facts.  Summary judgment can save you money and time, or it can beat you for not being organized and prepared.

There’s a lot more to know.  Drop a comment if you have specific question.  Otherwise, good luck and represent yourself well.

Dispute Resolution: Boundaries

Okay, you’re pissed at me and I’m pissed at you.  You destroyed my ten-thousand dollar Chihuahua.  The damages caused by your actions extend beyond the destruction of something with a certain value.  You’ve also damaged a thing of which value is uncertain.  Ahhh, the intangibles.  Since I see the world through the filter of my inherent and personal biases, your actions were malicious and the damage to my peace of mind has been grave.  I should know.  It’s my peace of mind.  Since you likewise see the world through a subjective filter, that Chihuahua was ugly, worthless, and if the chihuahua’s absence does not bother you a bit, the fact that it bothers me means I am beyond comprehension.

We arrived at this dispute because of our subjective, and divergent, interpretations of reality.  So, the best way to resolve this dispute is to find an objective third party to view the same reality and tell us whose conduct is less reasonable.  Certainly, a vague objective for the objective observer, but, living together with other humans beings in a fluid and ever-changing reality demands no more.  To be reasonable is to follow the terms of the social contract you entered into with me, your neighbor with the chihuahua.

You were born and then chose to stick around, here, with the rest of us who made the same decision.  Time, experience, and the wild west shootouts have taught us humans that a few simple boundaries, when respected, help everyone enjoy their earthly lives to a degree not truly appreciable unless such boundaries are absent.

In short: quit being a dick, you don’t know what comes next existentially.  Our remaining time here is finite.  So we both benefit from an expedient resolution, unless you simply engage in disputes to distract yourself from this truth, in which case I understand your weakness but I also must ensure I am fully compensated for the time you have robbed me of.

Now, to the matter of my ten-thousand dollar chihuahua.  I’m not here to justify the concept of private property.  That’s better left for the philosophers.  But what we can say, today, objectively, is that this this land right here is my land, and that land is your land.  The social compact we entered included the mutual stipulation to not enter onto another’s property, or fuck with their shit, in such a way as to harm the other’s enjoyment of it.  Why?  Because in exchange, they’ll do the same for you.

I’ll close with one final thought.  Dispute resolution, in this reality, is typically a misnomer.  Few genuine disputes between members of this society are actually “resolved.”  Rather, the consequences of such disputes are mitigated, and that’s it.  Then the world goes on as if nothing happened.

its a bizarre world, after all

In the early months of my blogging career, which coincided with my pursuit of the well-respected law degree, I set out to understand the universe.  As I read more and more laws, I found myself thinking often, wow, that’s really stupid, or worse, stupidly complicated.  The justification that had sufficed for my entire life, because that’s the law, had lost its unquestioned credibility.  For so long, that had been the end of my logical analysis.  If it was written, it was written by people more knowledgable than I, and therefore they must have considered things I don’t even know I don’t know, and therefore it’s right.

Now, I’m not talking about the blatant stuff like civil rights, and I get that laws evolve.  But let’s put that to the side for now.  I’m looking at taxes and court rules and the regulations that require certain forms which stand in between a disabled veteran and his or her benefits.  These laws weren’t sent down from a higher power.  Some were crafted by egos, some by corporate interests, some by good but under-informed intentions, and some just slipped by.  If life were a board game, and these were the instructions, I’d say fuck this game, I’m not playing.

Once the walls of the law had buckled beneath the rising tide of uncertainty in my mind, I came up for air and saw the world was fucking bizarre.  People were doing the silliest things for the silliest reasons.

People were doing shit everywhere, seemingly because everyone else was doing the same shit.  Wearing ties, telling children lies, and dressing a certain way on a certain day.

People were doing shit for the sole reason that some other dude, or one book that the dude read, told them to do it.  Blowing people up because of cartoons.  Telling other animals who they should and shouldn’t partner with.  Tithing their hard earned money for institutions to buy robes for leaders and pay for the leaders’ lawyers.

People were doing crazy shit for currency.  Leasing other peoples’ vaginas, making armies out of children, scanning your emails, and acting stupid for cameras.

And, people were doing shit because they had to do the same things all animals have had to do since springing into existence.  Sitting in traffic and sitting in offices.  Me need food and dental care.  But the real silly part is the less noticeable shit people are doing in the process of playing their small role in the fictional play called The Economy.  It works the same way as most successful scams: screw a lot of people out of a little bit of money.  The net effect is you get a ton of value and the victims barely notice.  Like paying the middleman to hold your currency, deceive you on you home loan, and make 6 billion dollars in one quarter of one year.  Oh, now, now, the educated Mr. Pennybacker will tell me, there’s this vague thing called the financial market, and it increases the availability of capital, which really helps you because at the end of the day, that capital is invested into new ways to take your money.  Yeah, well fuck you too.

When I started, you’ll remember, I was looking for a quiet place of truth.  Yet all I’ve found is a babylon of arbitrary rules.  I wanted to see that the human world — with Congress and Consumerism running the show, religion masking hatred, neighbors fighting over boundary lines, and weight-loss pills poisoning your liver — actually made sense if you studied it long enough. I wanted to conclude that these things were the undeniable results of an ongoing chain of reactions heading toward a universal truth.

Maybe I did find that ultimate truth.  Maybe it just wasn’t the one I wanted.  If destruction is the universal truth, then life on Earth, as a member of the human species, makes perfect sense.