In a first for the state’s Judiciary, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland has published a guide to aid the burgeoning number of non-lawyers appearing before it in navigating the complexities of the appeals process.
A year in the making, A Guide for Self-Representation outlines the steps necessary for filing and proceeding with an appeal, providing sample forms and notices, while explaining legal terminology to an audience whose understanding of the legal system may be limited.
Chief Judge Peter B. Krauser, Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, attributes “the growing percentage and number of cases in which one or both parties are self-represented” that he has seen to the foreclosure boom and faltering economy of recent years. These, he explains, combined with a general lack of familiarity with the appeals process on the part of many self-represented litigants, have unnecessarily complicated the process for both appellants and the Court.
“We’ve had to address a lot more pro se briefs and motions that clearly don’t conform to the Rules,” says Krauser, noting that parties not represented by an attorney are as equally bound by the Maryland Rules (available from the Maryland State Law Library, as well as the Court’s website, www.mdcourts.gov) as those who retain counsel.
Rules violations of any kind could result in the Court consequently dismissing an appeal altogether.
One of the greatest challenges of producing such a guide, according to Krauser, is reconciling the “certain complexity that is necessary” to adequately explain the law with a public that comprehends it to varying degrees; to that end, he says, the Guide was written to be as accessible as possible to the greatest number of people.
Still, acknowledging that some people learn better visually and/or aurally, Krauser notes that the Court is mulling production of an online companion video.
In the meantime, he says the Court plans to update and revise the Guide as necessary, calling it a work in progress. “We invite comments, suggestions, observations, and criticisms,” says Krauser. “We hope it gets better each time [it is published].”
Krauser stresses that the Guide is based “solely on an appeal in the Court of Special Appeals and should not be used if you wish to file an appeal with the Court of Appeals as the procedures in those two courts differ.” Nor should it “be cited as legal authority for any reason or purpose,” he cautions.
A Guide for Self-Representation is available as a downloadable PDF on the Judiciary’s website, www.mdcourts.gov, while printed copies may be obtained in Circuit Court Clerk Offices statewide.