Advice for self-represented litigants, Part 1: Walking away is sometimes the best decision

Walking on Ice Litigation-private

Self-represented Litigant: “But I have so much invested in this case.”

Me: “You haven’t seen anything yet. You still have a car and a wife. If you continue, both will be gone by Summer.”

by Donald Best, former Sergeant, Detective, Toronto Police

by Donald Best, former Sergeant, Detective, Toronto Police

Not a week goes by that I don’t receive at least two or three long emails from self-represented people who are facing personal disasters and injustices before the courts. Most of the writers tell of years-long legal battles where they started out represented by a lawyer, only to be forced by dwindling finances to take over the case themselves.

I remind them that the legal system is set up so that lawyers normally profit by dragging out litigation, not by winning or settling for their clients in a timely or effective manner.

The writers speak of their surprise in discovering that truth and justice don’t seem to matter to the courts; only the rules of civil procedure matter along with the unwritten rules of the court staff that often change on a daily basis. (Last week a white cover on filed legal documents was fine, this week it must be green, or blue. Double-sided was fine last month, but this week documents must be printed single sided… and on and on.)

While a very few of the writers are clearly unhinged (or have become so after years of obsessively seeking justice that will never happen), the vast majority who write to me are educated, intelligent people who are highly competent in their own professions. Yet, they find themselves struggling and caught up in legal systems designed to serve the needs of the legal profession first, and operated by lawyers and former lawyers (now known as ‘judges’).

Lawyers and judges frequently become angry with self-represented persons, whether their anger is due to frustration or is deliberately summoned to control, intimidate or damage. The system seems designed to allow lawyers to overwhelm and destroy citizens who cannot afford the price of legal counsel; even when the facts dictate that any jury would side with the self-represented litigant.  

Most of the emails describe unethical behaviour by opposing counsel and the willingness of the court to look the other way when lawyers shortcut the rules of procedure or are less than truthful with self-represented litigants or even with the judge.

I am not a lawyer and although I try to send a brief reply to every email, I don’t have the time to answer in detail.

But once in a while, for whatever reason, I reply at length with some general thoughts. I feel terribly sorry for most of the people who write to me because I know what they are going through. I know what it is to be unjustly convicted and jailed by corrupt lawyers who fabricate false evidence and lie to the courts. I know how difficult it can be to face judges who don’t want to hear any evidence of serious misconduct by opposing counsel. I know what it is like to have a lawyer charge tens of thousands of dollars, accomplish nothing and then indifferently walk away.

‘Mr. J’: Overwhelmed and sinking fast

This reply was emailed to ‘Mr. J’ (not his real name of course). If you are involved in a legal case that seems to be overwhelming you, you might want to consider my reply to ‘Mr. J.’:

Dear ‘Mr. J’,

Thanks for your comprehensive email. I’m not sure that any advice I provide would be the correct advice for you.

Your situation is very different than mine, but from your email I think that we’ve both learned the same lessons: unethical lawyers can crush you like a bug and for the most part, the courts and law societies tend to believe lawyers or at least give them the benefit of the doubt, even when the evidence of serious misconduct by lawyers is overwhelming.

Yes, Big Law firms are effectively untouchable as other lawyers fear to complain about their misconduct, while the Law Society of Upper Canada and other overseeing bodies are stacked with members of ‘the club’. Yes, law societies operate without independent civilian oversight and many lawyers act with only the most ephemeral and convenient adherance to the rule of law.

Your evidence is probably not as professionally gathered as mine is (after all, that’s what I did for decades as a police detective and then private investigator), but even with my voice recordings that show corrupt lawyers lied to the court and fabricated the evidence used to convict me of Contempt of Court, I still went to jail.

It could be that your evidence is not as solid or comprehensive as you believe it is, or it could be that it doesn’t matter how good your evidence is; the corrupt lawyers will win anyway because they know the Law Society of Upper Canada and the rest of the legal profession usually covers up wrongdoing by members of ‘the club’. (Read the Toronto Star’s ‘Broken Trust‘ series and you’ll know that you are not alone. According to the series, the Law Society of Upper Canada and Ontario’s legal profession have engaged in hundreds of cover-ups of criminal activities by lawyers.)

Now I’ve decided to tell my story to my fellow Canadians, hopefully in a credible and easily understood manner. I’m an amateur at that, while the lawyers are professionals. When it’s truth vs. showmanship, sometimes the truth doesn’t have a chance.

I don’t know all the details of your case or how much money is still at stake in the estate legal dispute that you speak of, but from your email it seems that the injustice of the entire situation has overwhelmed your life. My situation didn’t overwhelm me in the same way that your situation did, but I can tell you there were days when I considered dropping the whole thing just to try and normalize my life as best as I could.

You might want to consider the following questions as you make your decisions:

1/ What outcomes would you consider to be ‘just’ in your case?

2/ How likely are you to succeed at this point in achieving those outcomes?

3/ Will the achievable outcomes make up for what has happened to you? Will they allow you to have a decent and happy life going forward?

4/ If there is no hope of a ‘just’ outcome, should you consider admitting defeat, divorcing yourself from the situation and then try to achieve a happy and decent life without the money or the ‘justice’ that you seek?

Sometimes you can do everything right, and be in the right; yet still not find justice. At that point, a fresh start with nothing is sometimes the right thing to do. A fresh start is really nothing more than a decision, followed by some reinforcing actions; plus some personal discipline to stay on the chosen path.

Perhaps you could have done some things differently in the handling of your case. Or, perhaps nothing would have made a difference.

You can only go on from this day forward and decide what you will do tomorrow. How do you want to live your life tomorrow?

I cannot personally assist you because it is all I can do to handle my own case and try to find a new method of supporting myself. After all, my career as a credible investigator and witness died the moment I was convicted of contempt of court with provably fabricated false evidence in a rushed and secret trial while I was out of the country.

That was an injustice, and one that will probably never be corrected.

But it opened new doors for me as I ramp up my efforts to cause the Ontario legal profession to return to the lost ideal of law as the ‘noble profession’. I may have to drag the legal profession and the Law Society of Upper Canada kicking and screaming to their long-forgotten foundations of honour and justice, but I shall continue in my attempt.

Good luck with your case!

Yours truly,

Donald Best

Photo Credit: Fran Priestley,


  • Dear Mr. Best

    Yours is the voice of wisdom when everyone is telling me to sue.


  • I wish i read your article a year ago.
    thanks for the dose of reality.
    a self rep person cant win against the corrupt lawyers and judges.

  • Dear Mr. Best.

    Thanks for your advice. I have read your blogs and looked at your documents and am flabbergasted at the corruption of the lawyers and courts. They are peas in a pod really.

    several others have mentiioned as I will that you name names of the corrupt lawyers here and have done so for years. they must know and have done nothing so that says it all.

    G*d bless you.

  • Mr. Best,

    A hundred thank yous for this story. It is the best grounded advice i’ve read anywhere. i’m going to continue to represent myself in court but your story will always be in the back of my mind as a guide.

    am amazed that the lawyers you name have not come after you. that says everything.

    keep up the good work.

  • Pingback: Donald Best honoured to have work referenced by National Self-Represented Litigants Project | Donald Best.CA

  • Dear Mr. Best

    This is the first sane piece of advice I can remember since my diviorce started. She has a lawyer paid for by her daddy and I cannot aford a lawyer. No kids thank god for that but I worked 6 years for a house and she will take it all. I might walk away after reading your advice. she lies and her lawyr beats me up in court. not worth it. Thank you.

    • Delmer O. B. Martin

      The Generous Family Law Judge

      “Mr. Quinn, I have reviewed this case very carefully,” the divorce court judge said, “and I’ve decided to give your wife $775 a week.”

      “That’s very generous and fair of you, your honor,” the husband said. “And every now and then I’ll try to send her a few bucks myself.”

      Unknown Author

  • Pingback: Guest Column: How one self-represented litigant lost in court, but won the larger battle | Donald Best.CA

  • I have seen one self represented litigant actually win but in the court of public opinion after the case was tossed for a technicality in filing.

    In 1995 or thereabouts Leonard Earl St. Hill represented the Scotland District Association against the Attorney General and Prime Minister.

    Mr. St. Hill was no lawyer.

    He appeared before Mr. Frank King and was opposed by the Attorney General.

    The PM as far as the Scotland District Association alleged acted ultra vires in placing a garbage dump in the National Park on land zoned for the supply of water.

    Once the case was lost the Government applied for security for costs of $60,000 BDS if I remember correctly, effectively killing the appeal.

    Richard Goddard and others mobilized opposition to the plan to locate the garbage dump in the National Park.

    Funnily enough, it happened in Barbados.

    Even funnier, the Attorney General was David Simmons, MP for St. Thomas and member of the then ruling BLP.

    He caused a storm when he was elevated to the Chief Justice of Barbados in 2001/2!

    The PM was Owen Seymour Arthur!

    Both of them and Barbados are known to Mr. Best in his trials.

    It is estimated that the Government of Barbados spent in excess of $50million BDS trying to mitigate the land slip issues but the springs in the hills above the dump as predicted by members of the SDA made it into a lake!!

    Twenty years later, no garbage has been dumped there, a victory in the court of public opinion for the Scotland District Association.

    It was also a victory for common sense!!

    Sometimes victories are not won in a court of law and sometimes a loss in court is a win.

  • I echo the thanks of others. I am in the middle of a divorce without a lawyer and my ex’s lawyer constantly lies to the court about everything relying that the court will believe him and not me. They bully me and there is nothing i can do. complaining to the judge does nothing. I am worthless to the judge because I can’t afford a lawyer. Thankyou for telling the truth.

  • Dear Mr. Best,

    Thank you for your dose of reality about crooked lawyers and calling judges what they are “former lawyers now called judges” because they are all members of “the club” as you put it.

    I remain shocked that none of the crooked lawyers you call out by name on your site have done anything about that? No lawsuit? No defamation threats? No take down demands?

    What can it mean that they aren’t trying to remove your stories by the power of the court?

    To me it means that everything you’ve said is true.

    Good luck and good hunting, Mr. Best!

  • Mr. Best, I do not known where to begin.
    Your letter struck me in two sad ways.
    1. The sadness I feel for you becuase you too have battled the corrup legal system
    2. It gave me little hope that others in your situation can prevail and stand up for their rights even if the have provable and undeniable evidance

    Thank you for continuing as an advocate to make small steps towards a better change.
    I am slowly becoming an advocate myself and if there is anything I can do to help to get our country to begin listening and save even one person from living through the hell of injustice in family court please say the word in a reply here and i will contact you .
    I have stood by and watch police, lawyers and judges close a blind eye to truth and facts, lawy society given straight forward facts that went unheard and a man left to silently struggle in a destroyed beleif of what should have been faith.


    Defeited Grandmother

  • Thank you, you said what I could not find the words for.

  • Delmer O. B. Martin

    Hello Mr. Best:
    I just want you to know that I am on YOUR side and even though justice/the truth is just starting to reveal itself in your case, I am so pleased to be able to count on you as being very intelligent and connected person who is now wide awake to the truth about the system and the fact that you have chosen to be a truth seeker and advocate for real justice. The fact that you are a gifted professional investigator is an awesome competency that truly must scare the system of mostly non-truthseekers. (I only got so far as to be certified by OACP for Constable Selection many many years ago) I have always said “it is all about who is serving whom?” I too could publish a book on the subject…I am up to about 15,000 pages so far. Look me up my friend and I will respond as we fellowship in truth!
    Best Regards;