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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Ramunno suggests that Tigani’s attention to detail was a double-edged sword, especially when it came to exhibits and questioning witnesses.
“He over-exhibited,” says Ramunno. “This comes with experience, knowing where to stop or how to stop. Only a small percentage [of the exhibits] got into evidence. So there were books and books of wasted paper that were never admitted into evidence.”
Another skill that comes with experience, Ramunno says, is dealing with witnesses. “Again, you have to know when to stop, and once you’re there, you sit down and that’s the end of it. But Chris kept on asking questions, sometimes several times.”
As a result, Tigani overran the time Parsons gave him to present his case. “At the end he was given a couple of more hours, and he still couldn’t finish what he wanted to finish,” says Ramunno. “He kept people on the stand too long. Everything was important to him because he could not stand back and look at it objectively. But that’s typical of a pro se litigant.”
Like Hondros, Ramunno endorses the adage attributed to Lincoln. “Chris was forced to represent himself because of money, but he would be the first to tell you that if he had the financial ability to hire an attorney, he would have. Remember, N.K.S. spent $2 million to $3 million, so it was not a cheap trial. If you’re going against an attorney, you’re at a disadvantage. Because of a whole slew of things, you’re just behind the eight ball.”
His advice for pro se wannabes: “Don’t over-try the case. Go for the important parts. If you have 10 issues and one is important, the important issue can get lost among the other ones.”
Pro se litigants may wind up forfeiting some of their rights, according to Louise Lark Hill, professor of law at Widener for the past 20 years. “Not understanding the process can cost them,” she says. “For instance, there might be something said by the other side that a skilled advocate might pick up on as a point in their favor, but it might go unnoticed by the pro se litigant. In terms of discovery, they might not pursue their right for more information. They could end up having a case dismissed if they don’t adhere to whatever time restraints are imposed.”
Elizabeth Dunn, director of Public Service Careers and Pro Bono Programs at Villanova University School of Law, says a recent survey of state judges shows that one of the biggest issues for pro se litigants is that they “don’t know what evidence is admissible in order to make their cases. Procedural issues also can be complicated for them, starting with the basic question of when things should be filed and how to file.”
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