- August 15, 2016
- Thomas Adam
Pro se is a Latin phrase meaning “for oneself” or “on one’s own behalf.” It refers to individuals who don’t use an attorney but instead, represent themselves in court. The rules that govern proceedings in federal courts (bankruptcy courts are federal) explicitly permit persons to appear pro se and represent themselves. However, just because something is permissible doesn’t always mean it’s a good idea.
In re Baker 544 B.R. 461, a recent a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy case out of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Florida provides a recent example of the dangers of going pro se. In Baker, the Debtor filed Bankruptcy pro se, but failed to obtain relief offered by bankruptcy due to several mistakes. The mistakes included not filing a mailing matrix, filing a “bare bones” petition, failing to follow the rules and procedures of the Bankruptcy Court, and trying to obtain relief from an unfavorable outcome through a letter submitted to the Court after the case had been dismissed.
The Baker court was empathetic to the reasons the debtor did not follow the correct rules and to the debtor’s general misfortunes like health and family troubles. Yet, the court still found against the debtor and did not overturn the dismissal of the case. Courts are bound to follow the law and cannot make exceptions simply because they feel bad for a particular party. The Baker court emphasized that in exchange for the relief that a pro se bankruptcy can afford, a debtor, MUST follow the rules.
After setting out its decision, the bankruptcy court actually strongly urged the debtor to get an attorney if she files for bankruptcy again noting “Chapter 13 is not a simple process, especially for those with no legal education in Bankruptcy.”
Although not discussed in the Baker case, another issue that frequently arises for pro se bankruptcy debtors is choosing the correct form of bankruptcy. In the news and every day discussions, “bankruptcy” is used to describe any filing by an individual or business with a bankruptcy court. However, the reality is there are a number of different types of Bankruptcy that can be filed.
Some forms, called Chapters, of bankruptcy are only available to individuals while others are available for individuals and businesses. Some Bankruptcy Chapters are designed to liquidate the bulk of a debtor’s assets and pay off as many debts as possible. Other forms are designed to re-organize the debt and develop a plan for paying off the debt over time. There’s even a specific Chapter of bankruptcy for a family farmer!
The differences (and the above mentioned ones are just a few) between the types of bankruptcy mean that debtors must make a choice when filing and that choice can influence the effectiveness of the proceedings in helping alleviate the debtors financial situation.
Bottom line: think twice before filing a pro se bankruptcy. The Adam Law Group has Jacksonville, Florida bankruptcy attorneys who regularly assist clients in bankruptcy cases. This regular practice means familiarity with the many rules of bankruptcy court and the law. It also means that Adam Law Group bankruptcy attorneys understand the difficult situation debtors are in and are experienced at helping explain and guide individuals and businesses through the process.