March 27 , 2018
Dear Justice Corner:
I have a case where one party is self-represented and the other is represented by a lawyer. I hope you can help me with some issues:
- I am new to the case. Can I ask the lawyer to give me the procedural history/background of the case when they first step up to the bench?
- If I call the case and the lawyer isn't there yet, what should I do? If I call the case and the SRL isn't there yet, what should I do?
- Who should draft the order after the case has been called?
Dear Judge One-on-one:
Judges always want to be cognizant of how SRLs view what is happening in the courtroom. Only speaking to the lawyers and not paying much attention to the SRL makes the SRL feel like they aren't being treated fairly or aren't being respected. Some of the exact situations you asked about have lead to SRLs filing motions for Substitution of Judge because they felt like the judge and the lawyer were in cahoots against them.
To address your specific questions:
- Yes, you can ask the lawyer to give you the background of the case, but be careful. Before doing so, you should explain why you are asking the lawyer for the information and you should also give the SRL the opportunity to add information or confirm that the summary was correct.
- You should do the same thing in both situations. That means that if you would pass the case for the lawyer to get there without ruling against them, you should do the same for the SRL. Again, you should explain why you are taking the action you are taking (an SRL might be upset that they had to be there on time, but the lawyer can be late, so explain you would give them the same courtesy). You could ask either side to call the other to see where they are, but be sure to explain why you are asking them to do that.
- You could ask both sides who prefers to write the order and whoever says they would, let them do it. Either way, make sure to explain that the other side must review the order and have a chance to make changes before it is submitted to the clerk. You could also let them know that if there are any issues with the order, that you will address those issues before it is signed. Generally, SRLs are happy to let someone else write the order, as long as they know that the judge will review the order and make sure it accurately reflects what happened in court that day.
Everything comes down to perception, so just be aware of how the SRL might interpret your actions. Try to explain why things are happening they way they are so the SRL understands.
As always, please email your questions, comments, concerns, suggestions, or stories about self-represented litigants to firstname.lastname@example.org.
-Justice Corner, Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice Court Guidance and Training Committee
- Chief Judge Michael J. Sullivan, McHenry County
- Presiding Judge Clarence M. Darrow, Rock Island County
- Presiding Judge Sharon M. Sullivan, Cook County
- Chief Judge Kevin P. Fitzgerald, McLean County
- Judge William G. Schwartz, Jackson County
- David Holtermann, Lawyers' Trust Fund, Chicago
- Joseph Dailing, Legal Aid Consultant, Rockford