Do Corporations Required to Be Represented by a Lawyer In Circuit Court ?
In Moreno Construction, Inc. v. Clancy & Theys Construction Co., 722 So. 2d 976 (Fla. 5th DCA 1999) the defendant corporation appealed from the trial court's denial of a motion to set aside a default final judgment entered after the trial court found that the corporation had filed no responsive pleading where its answer was filed by its non-attorney corporate president.
The Fifth District reversed the trial court, finding excusable neglect where the corporate president indicated that he was not aware that a corporation required representation by counsel in circuit court and where the corporation immediately hired counsel once the trial court dispelled its erroneous belief.
In so holding, the court noted:
In reaching this conclusion we have considered Florida's common law rule that pleadings filed by a non-lawyer on behalf of another are a nullity.
The rule is the product of the policy against the unauthorized practice of law.
However, under the facts of this case, to mechanically apply the rule to prohibit a finding of excusable neglect places form over substance and fails to serve the underlying policy. See Szteinbaum v. Kaes Inversiones y Valores, C.A., 476 So. 2d 247 (Fla. 3d DCA 1985).
In this case, Florida's policy that cases should be tried on their merits whenever possible prevails. Moreno, 722 So. 2d at 978.