The courtroom can be an intimidating place for anyone unfamiliar with its formalities. It is far more intimidating to sit in the courtroom than any actor can portray on a television show or in a movie. While a party does not have to always agree with the Judge, the Judge has total control in the courtroom. There are many ways to have a judge dislike a party, but here are my top five from my view at counsel table.
1. A party or attorney that makes noises or rude gestures. It is unlikely that you will agree with what the other side is saying. That is why we are in court. As much as you may want to stand on the table and yell that the other side is lying, please refrain from reacting to what the other side is saying. This is true for family members or friends in the audience. A judge sees everything and he or she is a very astute individual. This is not Judge Judy and a courtroom is not the Wild West. Each party will have his or her opportunity to speak.
2. Dress respectfully. The courtroom is not a nightclub and it is not a construction site. Dress as if it’s Easter Sunday.
3. Respect the process and maintain a proper attitude towards the Judge, even if he or she is ruling against you. First, a judge should always be referred to as “Your Honor”. While not every judge will correct you if you say “Sir” or “Ma’am” it shows respect for the judge to use their correct title. Before you go into court, practice saying “your Honor” a few times. Second, do not interrupt the judge. Let the judge finish his or her sentence before responding. Each party will be given the opportunity to speak or should politely ask to say something. “Please” and “thank you” are still valuable tools in any courtroom. Third, when speaking, do not speak too fast or mumble. There is always a court reporter that is taking down the entire hearing. While these individuals can type faster than the average person, they still need the time to type and they need to understand what you are saying. A clear record may be of value later.
4. Court is mandatory and is not something to be skipped. If court is scheduled for 9:00 a.m., arrive at the courtroom at 8:45 a.m. Many courthouses have security screening that requires extra time. You are often not the only case that is scheduled for that time and Judges have heavy caseloads. Strolling in late or not showing does not earn anyone favors with the judge. Sometimes it will even lead to arrest warrants or the case proceeding without you. If you know that you are going to be late due to circumstances outside of your control, call court administration, call the opposing counsel, call the opposing party. The point is to try to call someone who can relay the message to the Judge. A judge will be far more understanding if attempts are made to communicate your delay.
5. Turn off your cell phone! Some courthouses now prevent people from even bringing their cell phone’s into the courtroom. If you have it with you, it should be on silent. Vibrate is not silent. Do not text; take phone calls; or listen to your voicemail. Do I need to remind you not to play Words with Friends or other games while you are waiting for your case to be called? If your phone call is more important than the reason you are in court, then leave the courtroom.
While these suggestions may not win your case, upsetting your Judge could cause an undesirable consequence. Judges realize that you cannot control everything, but you can control yourself.