Can I represent myself in small claims?

Yes, if you are an individual or sole proprietor. If you are an LLC or Corporation, Ohio will allow you to appear and avoid default but will not allow you to present any evidence, give any testimony, or ask any questions. The reason you, and a representative of a company, are not permitted to do any of those things is you are representing another person! 

Yes, in the eyes of the law, LLCs and Corporations are separate legal persons. As separate legal persons, this is why owners of LLCs and Corporations receive certain protections from creditors – the company is independent of the owner. Ohio prohibits non-attorneys from “defend[ing] any action or proceeding in which the person is not a party concerned.” R.C. 4705.01. When you, as a non-attorney, represent a Company, you are not a party to the action and engage in the practice of law. 

It may not be recommended even if you could represent yourself in small claims. Any party in small claims is required to comply with the Civil Rules of Procedure and Rules of Evidence. Unrepresented parties’ biggest error in small claims is not presenting evidence properly; the person attempts to bring in hearsay or a document without authentication. 

Hearsay “is a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement.” R. Ev. 801. If the person who made the statement isn’t testifying, the statement cannot be considered by the Court! 

Any document presented must also be authenticated. R. Ev. 901. The person who drafted or created the document(s) must be present to affirm it is true and accurate. There are exceptions to this rule where documents are “self-authenticating,” though rare. The party attempting to introduce the documents to Court must authenticate them. 

If this all sounds complicated, it can be! 

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