They say, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.
Ask Chaka Fattah Jr., currently defending himself against charges of bank fraud, tax evasion, and stealing government funds, and he just might tell you there's truth in that adage. Prosecutors may beg to differ.
Since a judge approved his request to represent himself last month, Fattah - the 32-year-old son of Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.) - has flooded the court with dozens of motions that he hopes will defang the case against him. Call it defense by a thousand pinpricks.
In hundreds of pages of legal filings - including one whopping 302-page motion last month - he has jumped on legal technicalities, repeatedly alleged prosecutorial misconduct, and even debated the definitions of phrases like substantial income and monthly.
His tools? Definitions culled from such authorities as Entrepreneur Magazine, InvestmentAnswers.com, and various online dictionaries.
So far, that strategy doesn't exactly appear to be working. Of the eight rulings U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III has made on those complaints, the younger Fattah has lost all but one.
Still, he said Thursday, despite having only a high school education and some college credit, "I'm enjoying having the opportunity to have my concerns reviewed by the court."
If the increasingly hostile federal responses are any indication, the patience of prosecutors has long since worn thin.
Consider just a few of the words used in recent filings to describe Fattah's legal reasoning.
"Spurious and irrelevant," Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul L. Gray said of one of the nascent defender's motions. "Specious," "misplaced," "frivolous," and "irrelevant" have also been deployed.
By Thursday, Gray appeared to have all but reached a breaking point.
At what would normally have been a routine hearing on the authenticity of FBI recordings, Fattah repeatedly sought to have a recording of one conversation between himself and officials at the Philadelphia School District thrown out.
His allegation? The government had deleted a portion of the conversation in which Fattah exchanged business cards with others in the room.
Not true, said Gray, whose hands repeatedly flew skyward in exasperation.
The debate left even Bartle, who has shown deep reserves of patience in dealing with Fattah's lack of legal training, asking: What difference would those allegedly missing minutes make?
As the hearing concluded after a half-hour without a decision, Gray told a group of onlookers: "Sorry for wasting your time. Blame it on the other guy."
But for all the friction between him and the government, Fattah says he is simply exercising his constitutional rights.
Prosecutors have accused him of defrauding several banks, the IRS, and the Philadelphia School District out of several hundred thousand dollars - a case Fattah has described as a misguided attempt to strike a blow against his father.
The congressman, who recently began an 11th term and who holds a plum seat on the Appropriations Committee, has been plagued with his own federal investigation into whether he played any role in the misspending of federal grant money at nonprofits run by his current and former employees. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
But now, saddled with the threat of significant prison time and up to $12 million in fines, the younger Fattah said he doesn't want to leave any possible way out unexplored. He made the decision to split from his court-appointed public defenders in November in large part because they failed to file the types of motions with which he is flooding the court.
"I understand how some people looking at these motions could say, that sounds petty, or that these are very minor issues," he said. "I have alleged serious misconduct on the part of the U.S. Attorney's Office, and since this case is about me allegedly lying, I think they should do everything right in prosecuting it."
One of his chief complaints centers on a March 2012 meeting he had with representatives of the Inspector General's Office for the School District. Fattah says he attended hoping to blow the whistle on fraud allegedly carried out by his then-employer, Delaware Valley High School. Instead, he alleges, an FBI agent misled him by posing as a School District employee and recording the conversation.
Prosecutors now allege that the for-profit education firm, which held a contract to run two campuses, bilked the district out of nearly $4 million by inflating salaries, making up benefit costs, and reporting nonexistent employees.
But, Gray said in a motion filed this week, authorities were not even investigating Fattah's role in those alleged deceptions until he contacted the district's anonymous fraud tip line and implicated himself. According to the motion, Fattah was seeking a reward.
Though Bartle has ruled on a number of Fattah's motions in the last several weeks, he has yet to specifically address any of the prosecutorial-misconduct claims. And for now, that is where Fattah is hanging his hope.
"I'm looking forward to resolving these issues once and for all," he said. "I'm going to go to court in March and will fight every count."