This site, COTIN.org, is the work of an unwilling ‘embed’ — a writer and journalist repelled by litigation who, after being forced to take legal action, realised that there has been little or no reporting from the trenches on civil lawsuits for non-experts. I have adhered to strict standards of accuracy in sifting the material published here — standards honed in my years as a journalist on the staff of The Economist and Business Week, and as an occasional contributor to publications including the British magazine Prospect, The Financial Times, The New York Times, The Observer (Guardian), Salon and The San Francisco Chronicle.
How can anyone be pressured into taking a case to court against her will? The short answer, in my case:
• through the refusal of my former partner to cooperate with or suggest any other means for resolving a disagreement related to financial security and the lack of arrangements for coping with old age and decrepitude. A lawyer aware of my deep aversion to contact with the court system, he is completely at home in that network and well-connected to its ruling powers.
• by being assured by the lawyer I was told I had to retain — asked by me to avoid litigation at all costs — that filing a legal complaint, just the next brief, … then just the next declaration, … would convince my former partner that settling the case promptly, out of court, was the only sensible course. Nothing was said about the risk of the actual course turning into a slippery slope ending in quicksand from which there was no way out — because of a legal system no longer working as it is meant to, in the opinion of experts including senior judges in more than one country.
For several years before my unwanted introduction to litigation in 2012, the numbers of people without any legal training representing themselves in court have been exploding. Even in American federal courts, self-represented litigants accounted for half the appeals filed in 2012.
The trend makes it all the more surprising that there is so little publicly available information about litigants’ experience of civil litigation with or without the help of lawyers. Two hopes for the collection of explanatory posts here rank outrank the others. The first is that it will encourage other people to publish truthful and substantiated accounts — based on public documents — of their encounters with the system, and their impressions of and opinions about it. The other is that insiders, experts and experts-in-training — lawyers, judges, law professors, law librarians, paralegals and other legal office staff, court reporters, and law students — will help me to correct mistakes of any kind that they spot here in spite of my efforts to minimise these. If you write to me c/o email@example.com, I will reply as soon as I can.
COTIN.ORG is a response to alerts from worried friends about the mysterious, near-instantaneous, appearance on the internet in the summer of 2015 of a document distorting fundamental facts about my (otherwise unimportant) life. This was the lengthy, circuitous statement of decision by the San Francisco Superior Court on my case. As litigation has yet to go online in most of the U.S., it is unusual for a judgement by a trial court to be published on the net or anywhere else. Parts of that statement could technically be libellous, but you cannot sue a judge for libel or defamation.
The judgement in favour of the defendant has been circulating, unopposed, for over two years. Although there is nothing to stop anyone from reporting contemporaneously on each stage of a trial or appeal-in-progress — as long as this is done truthfully and accurately — I put off the creation of this site. I wanted to give the San Francisco Superior Court and the First District Court of Appeal every chance to acknowledge and correct their demonstrable errors of fact and law — to wait until my case had closed earlier this summer and could go no further in California.
Note for anyone not a member of the legal profession:
A friend who has read some of my legal filings linked to this site has complained about feeling disoriented by the unnatural style in which they are written. Quite true. A self-represented litigant has to demonstrate respect by imitating, more or less competently, legal conventions in prose — including ‘modularity,’ or repeating the same key points in different sections of legal briefs because judges do not necessarily read these documents sequentially, and may read them only in part (rather like most readers of information on the net, in fact). Emotion has no place in legal texts, which gives them their peculiar bloodless quality.
The competing narratives in disputes in civil litigation bear no resemblance to telling someone about what happened in a conversation. Anything resembling speculation or revelations about — or explanations of — psychological motives rarely has any place in them. Chapters of a life are typically reduced to their most stringent outline to demonstrate that they either do or don’t fit the law that could apply to them.
They are a version of a well-known truism: ‘The map is not the territory.’
Updated on 1 September 2017
About the photographs:
Please write to me c/o firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use any of the images on this site. They are all my pictures, with the exception of the portrait of me and my dog on the Treatment of Facts page, which is a detail from a 1994 photograph by Jim Crane.