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Lost in self-representation

The two law school students picked the right hearing for their assignment in a civil procedures class.

Judge Ruth Ann Jakubowski ruled on 21 motions in one case Tuesday morning in Baltimore County Circuit Court, according to court records. I had to refer to court records even though I was in the courtroom because I lost count during the two-hour hearing.

The case, Alatortsev v. H& J Motors Inc. et al, drew my attention because it was one man against eight defendants, including several BMW dealerships. I was all prepared to write a humorous blog post about all those defense lawyers playing musical chairs at the defense table to be heard. (I felt especially bad for the court reporter, who could have used name tags to keep track of everyone.)

But then the hearing began, and it wasn’t quite as funny. The case has consumed seven volumes since Vadim Alatortsev filed his complaint in August 2008. From what I gathered, he alleges there were multiple problems with a used BMW he purchased in late 2007.

Alatortsev cited COMAR several times, held up reams of paper and said he “always reads the small print,” but apparently he wasn’t clear on the rules of procedure and discovery.

Judge Jakubowski denied all 11 of the plaintiff’s motions, which ranged from requesting a court-appointed forensic scientist to review allegedly forged paperwork to seeking a protective order to prevent the defense from obtaining personal information about Alatortsev and his wife through discovery.

“Once you file a lawsuit, you become an open book,” said Jakubowski, who, as chairwoman of the Maryland State Bar Association’s Judicial Administration Council, is developing guidelines for attorneys facing self-represented litigants.

Jakubowski also denied Alatortsev’s motions to sanction the defense lawyers for their actions, explaining that the lawyers are simply doing their jobs. She ordered Alatortsev to allow the defense experts to examine his car, and ordered him and his wife to sit for depositions within the next 45 days.

“At some point in time, with the pleadings in this case, you’re going to subject yourself to attorneys’ fees or the case’s dismissal,” Jakubowski said. (One of the defense laywers indicated in court that he would seek attorneys’ fees from Alatortsev.)

The whole hearing got me thinking — is this an extreme case of the perils of self-representation? Or is this more common than I think? If you don’t want to leave a public comment, please e-mail me.

One comment

  1. Dear Mr. Jacobs,

    I’d like to suggest that you either study the case (all 7 volumes of it, because you and your fellow students might learn a thing or two about American Justice system…) and objectively, not subjectively, write a true and full report about this case. Otherwise, I would like to suggest that you remove your article and stop scaring people by “perils of self-representation”. So you know, this case was settled and I won. I made them pay, although not as much as they should have paid, but they did pay for what they have done. Actually, you and your fellow students have missed the greatest spectacle during the settlement conference 10-19-2009… I truly wish it had been recorded on video, but I guess it is not what you want your readers to believe, right? You want them to believe that they are hopeless and defenseless without an attorney, and that they should never try to represent themselves, right?

    PS. I give you 48 hours to remove this article and apologize for misleading the public.

    Vadim S. Alatortsev, Ph.D.