The St. Joseph County Judges, along with the Indiana Supreme Court, recommend against your attempting to proceed in court without the representation of a lawyer. Representing yourself in court should not be taken lightly, and there are many instances in which hiring an attorney is a good idea. If you are charged with a criminal offense, the Court can appoint an attorney for you if you cannot afford to hire one.
The Court, Court Staff and Clerk Staff will not answer your questions on how to accomplish a particular task in the Court system because they are under the obligation to remain neutral in all matters before the court. That means they cannot help or assist either side. The staff is NOT allowed to assist you in preparation of any form or pleading.
If you decide to represent yourself, you should be aware that you will be held to the same standard as an attorney. You should review the web videos and materials at www.in.gov/judiciary/selfservice. This web site contains general information, as well as specific instructions and forms on specific types of actions you may be attempting to accomplish.
Some other things to consider if you decide to represent yourself: The Court cannot consider a letter or other document that is Ex Parte (only one side) communication. It means a statement made to the court without sending notice to all parties so they had opportunity to respond or be heard cannot be considered. The Court may only consider properly filed pleadings that contain a certificate of service to the other party. The court cannot act on any properly filed pleading without the opposing party having an opportunity to be heard in open court or by filing a responsive pleading.
On the other hand, if you and the other party are in agreement, you may file a stipulation of agreement. This must be in writing specifically stating your agreement and the document must be signed by all parties before a notary or the Clerk of the Court. The court may not approve your agreement if it is contrary to law.
Remember, every court action is based upon written law/statute, Court Rules or the body of law that develops from Appellate Court decisions. Each of those areas develops and change on a regular basis.
The BEST thing for you to do is consult with an ATTORNEY. If you cannot afford an attorney, certain agencies may be able to assist you, but you must qualify for their assistance based upon financial need.
Hiring a Lawyer
Hiring a lawyer is a personal decision. It is important that you obtain a lawyer that you feel comfortable with and that can best represent your needs. The St. Joseph Bar Association has a Legal Referral Service that can be a helpful source of information when trying to find a lawyer that is right for you.
Those who are indigent or without adequate means to procure a lawyer may qualify for pro bono representation through District 2 Pro Bono Legal Services.
Another service that is available to those who are indigent or without adequate means is the University of Notre Dame Law School Legal Aid Clinic.
Indiana Legal Services South Bend Office is also a service that is available to those who are indigent or without adequate means.