ONEIDA (WATE) -- In every state, people are allowed to represent themselves in court without an attorney's assistance. But an Oneida man who thought he could win his civil case without a lawyer learned otherwise.
Representing yourself in any type of legal matter without the benefit of legal counsel is referred to as acting "pro se," meaning on your own behalf. That's what Jack Ingram chose to do.
Jack wears false teeth. "I've had them since 2004 and they're real comfortable."
He has no complaints with his teeth. But a bill sent seven months ago by his oral surgeon troubled him. He wondered how he could owe $966.
"I got papers where I paid it," Jack says.
He called his wife's insurance company, Fortis, which sent him a report. "They say that our record indicates that these teeth was previously extracted," Jacks says.
In the mid 1990's, Jack had four teeth pulled and wore a bridge. According to his insurance company a molar, two bicuspids and an eye tooth were already pulled.
The record from Fortis Insurance says it's not going to pay for teeth that were previously pulled.
But Jack's oral surgery record from April 2004 shows they pulled those same four teeth and 13 others.
So Jack called the surgeon's office and refused to pay. "They said, 'If you don't pay we're going to sue.' I said, I contest it. We'll go to court."
In October 2007, Jack received a civil warrant. He and his wife were being sued for signing the insurance papers.
Jack called a local attorney who told him. "I can probably win your case, but it's going to cost you more money to pay me that it would to pay them."
Since he had the insurance record, Jack decided to face the judge and defend himself. He and his wife traveled 80 miles to Blount County where the oral surgeon's office has its headquarters.
The couple appeared before Judge David Duggan, who warned the couple that without an attorney, they were at a disadvantage. The other side had a lawyer.
"They get up there and say their part. Then I tell my part. I tell the judge that I got my receipt and my payments. And he said, 'Where is your witness at?' I said, I haven't got a witness. And he said that was it." Jack lost his case.
6 On Your Side isn't questioning the Judge Duggan's decision. He wanted someone to verify or testify about the authenticity of the insurance record.
"The parties in a case have a right to cross examine people about the evidence," explains Neil McBride, general counsel of the Cumberlands Legal Aid Society.
McBride says the way judges handle self-represented litigants depends on discretion and time. One thing judges generally don't have is a lot of time to explain the law to people when they're representing themselves.
"Even under the best circumstances, it is a complicated process. Things can be significant in a way that lay people don't understand and problems can arise that they don't know how to respond to," McBride says.
"If there is a lawyer on the other side, the complexity rises in a much greater way. They can interfere with the introduction of evidence. They can make people nervous," McBride adds.
Jack and his wife now have a different opinion about their initial decision. "If anyone goes to court, they don't need to try to do it on their own, no," he says.
This is one side of representing yourself in court where the defendant lost. But other people defend themselves and win. They're on TV all the time in court reality shows.
No one can argue against times when it may be necessary, or at least highly advisable, to consult a qualified attorney to handle a legal manner.