For many Floridians, the courtroom is an unfamiliar place that can seem intimidating. Most of us only know what we've seen portrayed onscreen in movies and television. And while some of the films get things right, too many are dramatized to the point they are no longer realistic. Most cases in Florida are debt collection cases and will not involve a need to address a jury panel nor dramatic deposition testimony. It's very unlikely that you'll have a chance to feel like the cast of a “A Few Good Men” and shout “you can't handle the truth!” in most courtrooms. Usually, the disputes are about the sufficiency of the evidence being presented and the rules of the court. For these reasons, it is always recommended that you obtain legal counsel for any courtroom dispute, whether it be civil or criminal; and for all manner of debt collection actions, the Holland Law Group is here as your partner in the law, standing ready to assist!
That said, if you've put off hiring an attorney, or only just found out about your court date and haven't had a chance to retain counsel, there are a few things to remember if you end up representing yourself in the courtroom. Your behavior, appearance, and speech can all influence the outcome of your case, so take a moment to read through this helpful guide if you haven't been able to speak with someone at the Holland Law Group just yet.
- Dress up. It is often said that you will never get a second chance to make a “first impression.” While you don't necessarily need to wear a formal men's or ladies' suit to the courtroom when representing yourself, it is advised that you come in attire that could be considered “business casual” to help give yourself a boost. Judges and attorneys alike will notice that you appear to care about the proceedings more than many folks who come in casual clothing, and you may find you are treated more respectably.
- Use respectful language. If you are speaking directly with a judge in the courtroom, refer to the Judge as “Your Honor.” If the Judge is trying to get a word in while you're speaking, it may be best to stop, allow the Judge to explain the matter to you, and then continue to make your point if appropriate.
- Explain you'd like more time. If you just found out about the case and are actively considering hiring an attorney, do not be afraid to let the Judge know. Though not every court will allow it, many Judges will give you a chance to retain the services of legal counsel if you ask for it, by entering something known as a “continuance” in your case. You may be able to reset your court date for another 30 or possibly even 60 days to have time to speak with an attorney, like those at the Holland Law Group.
- Do not interrupt others. In general court procedures allow for each party to have some uninterrupted time to speak and give their position to the Judge. If you hear what the attorney for the Plaintiff is saying and disagree with it, just wait until they've finished speaking, and then ask to make your statement. Just as they were allowed to speak to the Judge, you'll be given the chance to explain to the court your version of events without being interrupted.
- Do not arrive late. It is very important to arrive on time, or even early if possible. In many courts, if a Judge has called your case for hearing and you are not there, you will be marked in “default” (absent) and the Plaintiff may be able to seek a judgment without a fight. If you are unfamiliar with the courtroom, do not be afraid to ask the security personnel in the entrance of the court how to get to the courtroom you're looking for.
- Don't admit you owe the other side money right away. Statements you make to the judge in open court can be viewed as an “admission” and used against you. For this reason, it can be useful not to admit to owing money/damages to the other side right away. You may be asked whether you owe the money directly by the Judge. You can simply ask to have the opportunity to review and scrutinize the bills you're being asked to pay before admitting to the debt. In many cases, a Judge will set a mediation in your case to talk openly with the other side in a confidential setting, to try and work it out, without any risk of making an admission in front of the judge.
While these are certainly some useful tips and tricks for appearing alone in the courtroom, it certainly is not an exhaustive list, and there is much that you should know before trying to represent yourself in a case. The Rules of Evidence, Rules of Civil Procedure, Florida and Federal law, and local courtroom procedures all have input on how your case will be decided, and hiring a knowledgeable attorney familiar with all of these concepts is the best way to preserve your rights. The Holland Law Group is your partner in the law, and is ready to discuss your matters and potential defenses at no cost to you! We serve all corners of Florida, from Miami-Dade to Duval, from Orlando to Tampa. If you find yourself being sued by debt collectors, call today at (941)-803-8138!