HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — A courtroom can be an intimidating and confusing place, so the Maryland Judiciary has produced a series of online videos to help those who represent themselves know what to expect and how to prepare for their day in court.
“The judiciary is dedicated to providing fair, timely and equal access to justice for everyone here in Maryland,” Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera said in a news release. “These videos help us meet those goals by providing vital information to help people become more familiar with how courts operate and how they can help themselves in court cases.”
The four videos are: “Tips for Your Day in Court,” “Service of Process,” “Defending a Small Claim” and “Finding Legal Help,” according to the release.
Running just less than five minutes, “Tips” is common-sense advice often not commonly observed, including dressing appropriately and professionally.
“Dressing appropriately shows you have respect for the court … and respect for your case,” said Hagerstown attorney Andrea Cheeatow of Cheeatow & Lobley Attorneys at Law.
“Your case is serious to you, and should be serious to the person judging you,” she said.
“One of my pet peeves is ladies … they come to court in tank tops,” Cheeatow said. On some occasions, she has given a client her jacket to wear during court appearances.
Men with pants hanging down and underwear exposed is another peeve, she said.
“I’ve had clients tell me they don’t own a suit,” Cheeatow said. A decent pair of pants and a clean shirt will do, she said.
Dress requirements are more lax in Washington County District Court, but in Circuit Court, people wearing shorts, flip-flops and other inappropriate attire are not allowed in the courtroom, said Cheeatow’s law partner, Victoria Lobley.
“Tips” also advises people to be on time for court, leaving enough time to find a parking spot, clear security and review case materials before having to go before a judge.
“I’ve seen defendants get incarcerated because they were late for court,” Cheeatow said.
In a civil proceeding, such as a person seeking a protective order, the case can be dismissed by a judge if the plaintiff is not present when the roll is called in court, she said.
The video advises people to speak clearly and concisely when presenting their cases.
“People can harm themselves by not being concise,” Lobley said. “Sometimes they veer off course a little bit and perhaps share too much information.”
“Finding Legal Help” has advice on finding and hiring a private lawyer, options for free or low-cost legal help, and self-representation.
“Lawyers can look for things in your case you’re not aware of,” said Lobley, noting that low-income defendants in criminal cases can qualify for representation through the Office of the Public Defender.
“It’s a valuable investment in your case and your future, no matter which side you’re on,” she said.
The videos and other self-help materials can be viewed by going to the Maryland Judiciary website at http://mdcourts.gov and clicking on Video Library.
Information from: The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown, Md., http://www.herald-mail.com
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)