What NOT to Do in Court

I just left the Ventura County Courthouse where I sat and listened to people plead their case to the family law judge. Some made a pitch about why their child support should be reduced, using arguments not supported by any legal or factual basis.  Others had reasons why the judge should excuse their non-appearance at a prior court date, which resulted in orders they did not like because they weren’t there to contest them. Then there was a father who told a story how he is now the custodial parent to his young child because the mother threatened to kill the Child Protective Services social worker.  Really – this stuff just cannot be made up.

After practicing family law for 20 years, it never ceases to amaze me how much disregard many people have for the judicial system, whether it be the courts, police, courtroom staff, social workers, etc.  While I understand the frustration people have when it comes to the judicial system, that system has the ultimate power over our society and our individual rights, responsibilities and liberty.  Bottom line, in family law court it is best to not upset the judge who will make orders that will determine your financial and familial circumstances.   So, rather than suggesting what should be done by those who appear in court, I instead propose that the following should not be done (and believe me, I have seen these things done in court to the great detriment to the person engaging in this behavior):

  1. Do Not argue with the Judge. Arguing with a judge is best left to lawyers.  Whether or not you are represented by a lawyer, you should not argue with the judge.  It is appropriate to calmly present the facts of the case and explain to the judge why your position should be accepted.  This is advocating a position. However, arguing, as you might with your kids, spouse or maybe even your boss, should not occur.
  2. Do Not interrupt the Judge. Interrupting judges will only anger and frustrate them, and is also highly disrespectful. Provide the judge with the opportunity to present the Court’s position, and when that is finished, proceed with your argument.
  3. Do Not have friends and family in the audience who attempt to influence the Judge.  It is not acceptable for your friends and family, who are free to accompany you to the courthouse, to sit in the audience engaging in non-verbal communications with the judge, or with you, during your hearing.  The nodding of heads (yes or no), raising hands, mouthing answers to questions, is not allowed and can get the “cheering squad” removed from the courtroom.  If this occurs, it could negatively reflect on your case by calling your credibility into question, or annoying or angering the judge.
  4. Do Not chew gum in court or while addressing the Judge.  Simply put – this is disrespectful.  Any judge to whom you show disrespect could start to question the kind of conduct you teach your children and thus question your fitness as a parent.
  5. Do Not argue with the court staff.  The court staff is the eyes and ears of the judge, and if you disrespect the staff, you can expect the staff to tell the judge.  Again, judges want to see parents who are good role models for their children.  If you disrespect the process which will make decisions that impact your life, what kind of a role model are you for your children?  What lessons are your children learning about authority? And, as a result, what will the judge think about you?
  6. Do Not bring children under 18 years of age into the courtroom.  If you attempt to do this, the bailiff will ask you to remove the child or children from the courtroom. If you are present in court to argue your case, and do not provide for childcare, this could affect your hearing. Either have childcare available to you the day of your hearing, bring a friend with you to watch your child or children outside of the courtroom, or, utilize the childcare services (if available) at the courthouse.

Most people think the facts are the facts in their legal proceeding and if they have what they believe is a good case, positive results are certain.  However, the reality is, almost no case is a sure bet because in many instances the judge has discretion to side with one of the parties, particularly if the other party has created negative credibility in the courtroom by the kind of behavior discussed in this blog post. Trust me … if the judge has discretion to rule for or against you, and you have created negative credibility, an unpleasant decision may be the result.