There are many reasons that people choose to represent themselves (what is referred to as pro se) rather than hire an attorney. Rarely are any of them good reasons. To a lay person, I realize that this sounds almost disingenuous coming from someone who is an attorney – but the law is serious business. A recent decision from the US Bankruptcy Court in Massachusetts should serve as a reminder to anyone considering the pro se option that do so may invite undesirable consequences.
The debtor in the case filed pro se an adversary proceeding against HSBC and 25 “John Does.” An adversary proceeding is a law suit filed in the bankruptcy court that is part of a bankruptcy case. The court observed that the debtor’s schedules indicated that he had the financial wherewithal to retain an attorney – but did not. The court also noted that on several occasions the debtor was advised “(and practically pleaded with)” to retain an experienced and knowledgeable attorney. He did not.
His claim against HSBC was based on a number of legal theories, including a violation of the Massachusetts RICO statute. RICO is an acronym for the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. It’s a federal law, not a state law. There is no Massachusetts RICO statute. The remaining claims were violations of the FDCPA (Fair Debt Collection Practices Act) and TILA (Truth in Lending Act). The claims were dismissed, and the debtor sought reconsideration of the Court’s decision.
On reconsideration, a party needs to demonstrate some manifest error of law or newly discovered evidence. He did not. Instead, he filed 12 single-spaced typed pages that did not concisely inform the court why reconsideration was justified.
Perhaps there are viable claims of the Debtor in the Complaint or in the Reconsideration Motion that could be forensically discovered. But it is not the responsibility of the Court to locate them. Notwithstanding the liberal accommodations which all courts make for pro se litigants, this Court is not the Debtor’s attorney. And the downside to throwing everything conceivable against the wall to see if anything sticks is that, in the resulting chaos, issues of merit may not be distinguishable from those without merit.
Here the Court makes clear that there is a difference between what amounts to a liberal accommodation to a pro se party and what arises to the level of the Court doing the job that a litigant – or his or her counsel – should be doing. And here, no one can say that this debtor was not wronged, or that he had no claim. All we can learn from this is that this debtor did not properly articulate either his claim, or the basis for the claimed relief in such a way as to enable the Court to properly do its job.
- Pro Se Perils: No Ticket and No Excuse
- Pro Se Perils
- Pro Bono Foreclosure Assistance Hotline
- Bankruptcy Court Observations: Bad Lawyering
- Good Faith and Bad Art