By Judge Stephen Halsey
We all have “pet peeves,” things we observe or have happen to us which are very irritating. It may be the person redeeming lottery tickets at the gas station when you are last in line to pay for your gas. It may be the person on their cell phone during your child’s holiday program at school or dance recital.
I have found that the great majority of citizens are very respectful of the court and others when they appear in court for a hearing. But there is always that fraction of one per cent of people who appear in court that fail to be respectful that get the judge’s attention and sometimes incur the judge’s displeasure. Judges all have their own pet peeves, but some I believe are commonly held among judges.
These pet peeves arise when citizens do not follow the simple rules of civilized behavior described in the 1988 best selling book by Robert Fulghum, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”. One would think that common courtesy and respect for others would prevail in the courtroom, but hearings and trials are stressful for everyone and folks seem to forget what they learned in kindergarten. Many citizens have never appeared in court and have little understanding about what is expected. Many appear in court without an attorney. Everything they know about appearing in court they learned from watching TV judges.
When you are before a judge, with or without a lawyer:
• Don’t arrive late for a hearing. If you are going to be late, call court administration so the judge and opposing side will know. But understand that the hearing may proceed without you if you will be very late.
• Do arrive at court fully prepared. Have any documents timely and properly served on the opposing party (for some types of cases at least 14 days) and filed with the court, and pay all required court fees.
•Don’t irritate or be rude to the court staff. This especially applies to lawyers. The court staff can put you at the bottom of the calendar. You will gain a reputation as a difficult lawyer or party.
• Don’t interrupt others. This may be the biggest pet peeve. Court is not Judge Judy. Court is not a place to interrupt the other side, their attorney, and particularly the judge.
• Do tell the truth. You may be sworn on oath to do so. Lying under oath in court or in an affidavit is perjury. It’s a felony. It is amazing to judges what some parties say under oath or write in sworn affidavits.
• Do follow the rules posted in large letters on the courtroom door. No gum, no cell phones or pagers, no hats, no children in court without the judge’s permission, etc. In some courts you lose your cell phone permanently if it rings while you are in the courtroom.
• Don’t ridicule, taunt or antagonize your opponent or their attorney. It is simply rude. Name-calling or profanity could result in contempt of court and some jail time as a penalty.
• Don’t be a sore loser. When your hearing or trial is over, it’s over. Responding angrily could result in severe consequences. (See #7) You have rights of appeal. Consider discussing your case with an attorney.
• Don’t expect the judge will act as your lawyer if you don’t have one, whether or not your opponent has a lawyer. Judges ethically cannot help you present your case or give legal advice or significantly vary from the court rules for parties without lawyers.
• Do follow the Rules of Court. If you ignore them, you do so at your peril. Everyone must follow the rules. The rules are to insure everyone has proper notice of court hearings and due process of law. A copy of the Rules is in your county law library.
• Don’t talk fast or at the same time as someone else. The court reporter’s job is to keep an accurate record, a much more difficult task when two people speak at once.
• Don’t act casually in addressing people in the Courtroom. Don’t call people by their first name without permission from the judge. Refer to them as Mr. Johnson or Ms. Anderson, for example.
• Do present a concise and organized argument.
• Dress appropriately, as if you were attending Grandma’s birthday party at church; not like you are going dancing at the local “watering hole.”
• If you have a lawyer, ask them to explain to you what will happen in court.
If you avoid these “Do’s and Don’ts” you will show respect for our judicial system and your fellow litigants. In summary, do come to court on time, fully prepared, having timely served and filed the proper papers; be respectful of the court and your opponent; and present an organized and concise argument. Justice will be better served if you do so.