The Trials of Chris Tigani
When Robert Tigani mounted a multi-million dollar legal battle against his son for control of the family business, financially strapped Chris Tigani fought back by representing himself. He saved untold dollars and earned respect in the legal community. But has he saved his job?
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It was as a freshman at Guilford in 1988 that Tigani met Elizabeth Tate, a junior in pre-law. They began dating and soon became sweethearts. The romance continued when Tate enrolled in law school at Wake Forest, some 20 minutes away in Winston-Salem. Tigani frequently visited the Tate home in High Point, where he had many discussions with Elizabeth’s father, Richard Tate, a prominent local attorney.
Elizabeth Tate is now Elizabeth Hondros, an attorney in Charlotte who recently returned from maternity leave. “Chris was always interested in the law,” she recalls, “and I encouraged him to go to law school.” But she says there was never any doubt about where his future lay. “He was extremely proud of his family business and extremely passionate about it. Every summer when we were dating, he went home and worked in some capacity in the business. He was really close with his grandfather, who had built the business, and he had tremendous respect for him.”
By the time Hondros finished law school, Tigani was working full time at N.K.S. The romance “had run its course and couldn’t really survive the distance,” Hondros says. But they have remained friends, and he reached out to her early in his pro se efforts. She provided advice and reviewed many of his documents.
Hondros was impressed, to say the least, calling her former boyfriend “certainly the most capable pro se litigant I’ve ever seen.
“I was really surprised at how well he had targeted the issues,” she says. “His deposition transcripts were very good for a pro se person, very detailed, and better than some lawyers I know. He did a great job of building his case point by point.” His efforts were especially impressive, she says, “given the caliber of attorneys and the resources he’s been up against.”
But pro se litigation is not something Hondros recommends except as a last resort. “They face serious disadvantages,” she says. “They’re just not on equal footing when it comes to understanding procedural rules, substantive law, being able to research points of law. For a lot of pro se litigants, even if they try to study the rules, it’s like learning a different language for them.”
Leo Ramunno is a Wilmington attorney who was able to observe Tigani in court. Ramunno represented MyPal, MyPal II and World Class Wholesale, limited liability partnerships that Chris Tigani was involved in. “There is no real comparison to other typical pro se litigants, who really don’t have a clue as to what’s going on,” says Ramunno. “He was very well prepared—obviously not as well as trained attorneys, but he had done his research, and he was very articulate. Most people, when they get in a pro se situation, they fumble, they get scared, confused. It’s a very tense situation.”
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