Representing yourself at trial? Here are a few pointers for planning your time and witness preparation. It may sound difficult, but if you allow yourself enough time, you can prepare yourself for your hearing.
TIME FOR TRIAL and PREPARATION
To plan your case, you MUST know how much time is allotted for your hearing. It should be printed on your Notice, in a Pre-Hearing Order, or in your Case Management Order. If you do not have such a Notice or Order, call the Court Clerk and ask how much time is allotted for the hearing, and how much of that each party to the case is allotted.
Your own story is what the Judge wants to hear. You are your own best witness. Leave yourself enough time to tell your story.
You also need to plan to cross examine the other party. Plan out what questions you will ask, the answer to which should be “Yes” or “No.” As a result, you rarely need as much time for cross examination as you do to tell your own story.
Remember that representing yourself can be very time consuming. Check all the deadlines in your Case Management Order and the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure. Make a list and set timeframes for your preparation. This is something to think carefully about well in advance of the hearing date. You will need time to identify witnesses, talk to them, and to prepare a witness list; to review evidence and prepare exhibits; to communicate with the opposing party or opposing counsel; and to plan out your strategy including writing out your direct examination and cross-examination.
WITNESS PREPARATION BEFORE TRIAL
Have you spoken with your intended witnesses? What does he or she intend to say? How does he or she bolster YOUR case? How might he or she hurt you? You cannot speak with the other side’s expert witnesses, but you can speak with any lay witness, also called fact witness, that they intend to call. So, have you made those calls yet? If not, make them now. Although picking up the phone can be scary, it does not hurt to build a rapport with that person, and find out what they are going to say against you or for you. The reason we have to disclose our witnesses prior to trial are so that there are no surprises at trial. Colorado Courts do not condone trial by ambush. The other side’s witnesses do not have to speak with you, but it does not hurt to try to reach out.
Be clear with the person you are calling what reason you plan to put them on the stand. It better be because their story substantially supports your case, and you cannot tell it yourself because you were not there. The person you put on the stand must have PERSONAL knowledge of what happened. They cannot testify as to what someone else told them (unless a specific rule of evidence allows it).
Remember your resources such as the state court website, the Self-Help Centers at the courthouses, and pro se clinics. Many firms, including ours, offer Unbundled Legal Services. This is a way to get some legal advice and support while continuing to represent yourself. If you are unfamiliar with this service, you can also check out our blog post on that topic.
You will find information on examination of witness and presenting evidence in Trial Preparation Part 2.