Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Everything you wanted to know about Courtroom behavior * but were afraid to ask...

Disclaimer: This post should not be construed as legal advice. This post should be construed as humor. I am not your lawyer, I will never be your lawyer. The laws in your state may be different than the laws in my state.

So I was trolling through my recent referrals and noticed a lot of people stumble onto my site looking for advice on being in the Courtroom.

This is a good sign. You should look for advice on being in a Courtroom... if you have to be in one, you don't want to inadvertently ruin it for yourself... so here goes:

1. Get there early. Seriously, nothing is worse than getting there late. I could fill an entire blog with stories of people who arrived late. Generally, if you're late the Judge WILL issue a writ for your arrest... so get there early or call the Judge's assistant with a Valid reason- hospitalization, or car wreck (with police report) are two acceptable ones. DO NOT lie to the Court- they have, in fact, heard it all. You really don't want the secretary calling the hospital to check the records and finding out you were lying. It may be hard to figure out which Courtroom... or find parking so give yourself time. Plus, if you arrive really early this creates a favorable impression with the Court.

2. Wear something that at least covers you between the knees and elbows, preferably long pants or skirt and long sleeved shirt. I would like to advise you to wear Sunday clothes- but I have had some bad results with that one, as nothing looks worse than someone in a suit they haven't worn in 10 years and are very, very uncomfortable in. Your shirt should be tucked in. You should have on a belt. Your clothing should be free from words if at all possible. (The chick in the custody hearing last week with the "Highly Edukated" shirt on- it was a funny shirt but to convince the Judge you're a fit parent....) Skirts shorter than the knee tend to ride up when you're sitting down- so you can get really uncomfortable sitting in the witness chair trying to pull your skirt down. Oh, and it will be cold in the Courtroom. Very, very cold.
2a: Big Tip: Hard soled shoes are really loud in the Courtroom. I recommend soft soled ones so you don't feel so obvious.
3. Bring all your evidence each time you come to Court. It won't do you any good at home. Bring your piece of paper that told you to be there too- it can help you figure out where you're supposed to be.

4. TURN YOUR CELL PHONE OFF. Seriously. I could regale you with stories- but I have seen too many people in jail for an hour for contempt of Court for forgetting this one. If you just set it to silent, you might mess up and accidentally get a message tone or something.

5. Take your pepper spray, knives and other weapons out of your bag/ pocket. I would have thought this was kind of a DUH one, but you should see the collection of knives that piles up outside the Courthouse every day. If you're worried for your safety, ask a Deputy to escort you to your car.

6. Be POLITE. Yes sir, no sir , may I please.... if you're rude to the Bailiff, he may tell the Judge, likewise, if you're nice to the Prosecutor he may be nice to you.

7. Be prepared to "Hurry up and wait." Generally Court proceeds like this: 30 cases are scheduled for the same time. At the appointed hour the Judge calls each case and asks the status. He will ask you to not respond if you have an attorney because your attorney will respond for you, and generally to speak out and raise your hand if you do not. If you have an attorney and s/he is not in the Courtroom you should probably go ahead and answer. Listen carefully to the Judge's instructions regarding this and do what s/he says.

8. In many cases the Judge will then place the Court in recess to allow the parties (you) to attempt to settle this case. This is normal and you should try. Only a very few cases get tried. If the other lawyer wants to talk to you and you don't have a lawyer, at least listen to him/her. If s/he is bullying you, step back and tell him/her so. DO NOT be afraid to be assertive- but DO NOT raise your voice. Seriously- NO LOUD VOICES. Often these discussions take place in little corners around the Courthouse- stairwells, random nooks, empty Jury rooms. Write down the points you want to make so if your mind goes blank it will jog your memory.

8A. Civil/ Domestic relations: Know what you want to come from the case. Know what you can be flexible about. If your pig ass ex husband wants to pick the kids up at 4:15 instead of 5:00 DO NOT make the Judge get involved because this will piss him/her off and you'll come across as being crazy. Remember: The Judge cannot make him/her sane. NOTHING the Judge can do will make him/her a better person, or regret what s/he did to you.

8B. Criminal: Listen to the offer. I don't want to go into too much detail- but if you have something you want to know (May I go to driving school? I had insurance at the time, it just wasn't in my car.... I have my license back. ) tell her/him once s/he is done speaking. If you have irrefutable proof it wasn't you- Like John swore out a warrant that you came over to his house and threatened him at 6 PM on January 14th and you were at work 20 miles away until 9 PM January 14th- then say something simple like, "John says I threatened him January 14th and I was at work when he says I did it- here is a printout from work where I highlighted the clock in and clock out times. My boss is reachable at this number here to confirm my story." (Note: you may have to subpoena the boss to get that evidence in front of the Judge....) Just the FACTS. Not, "You ain't got no evidence it was me." Its ok to ask, "Is this a standard offer for this crime?" of a random attorney near the Courtroom. Most will tell you. Most prosecutors have standard Misdemeanor offers. This means that every one who does crime X gets punishment Y.

Caveat: This is intended as a simple overview of the Courtroom, not as a crash course in Procedure, Evidence, and negotiation. I went to school for three years to learn how to do that part. So, if you feel the least worried about your case, hire an attorney or get one appointed to you. Again, I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice. This is general life advice : )

9. Be proactive about your Court Case! If you ignore it it will NOT go away. If you move after you already know you have court, then Call the courthouse and give them your new address. I can't tell you how many people do garbage like this. If you're on BOND you (almost guaranteed) signed something that says that you will tell your bond agent and the Court if you move.
9A. Ask your Bond agent about the particular Judge you have. Bond agents know a lot of things.

10. Number one piece of ADVICE: If you feel uncomfortable with the situation then call the Courthouse as soon as you get your court date. Ask when your Judge will be hearing other cases like yours. Example, "When does Judge Dredd have a misdemeanor trial date set?" Go to the Courtroom and just watch. Unfortunately, Juvenile cases are closed so if you have one of those, just go to another docket the Judge has. Often in this case the Judge will notice you and ask you if you need something. Be prepared to tell him/her you have a case set before him and that you just wanted to get familiar with the Courtroom and how things would go.

Good Luck.

Now, 5 quick things not to do:

1. DO NOT think you have done proper legal research on an issue. I have never seen a lay person get it right. Unless you have a lawyer friend feeding you stuff just... don't. I had a guy the other day who had gotten the prison lawyer to do some magnificent research for him. Only, it was from Federal criminal procedure, and we were in State Juvenile Court. BIIIGGG difference.

2. Don't ignore your case. It will NOT go away.

3. Do not use, "Yo" "Ya know whadi'm sayin'" "Its like this..." or "You feelin' me." Nor any curse words, nor loud voice.

4. If you're under 22 you may bring a parent with you even to the settlement discussion. If you're over 22 but under 30, you may bring them with you but leave them in the audience if you have to go talk to the prosecutor or other lawyer. Do feel free to ask the prosecutor if you may go review the offer with your family. If you're over 30, unless your parent is a witness, don't do it and surely don't let your parent speak for you. I am sick of 45 year olds whose momma is all up there in the discussion. If your momma didn't run your life and keep getting you out of scrapes, you might be an adult by now.

5. NO- hats, do rags, droopy pants, gold chains (Make you look rich and foolish with your money), beer or pot anything, belly buttons, or other extreme clothing. No novelty contacts, glitter, or shoes you cannot walk in all day. No taffeta, lame', crepe de chine, or vinyl. No trains, veils, or gloves. Seriously, I want you to be able to express your individuality, however, right now you need to think about your message. Its all a matter of time and place. If you were interviewing Dita Von Teese you would wear many of these things or she would think you were a square and probably wouldn't want to talk to you. The Judge on the other hand will do her best to ignore what you're wearing and listen to the facts, make it easy on her. Its easier to convince someone you're an upstanding citizen when you look like one.

Oh, and if you're Dita Von Teese/ her people trolling to see what people are saying about her, then tell her I think she ROCKS, and Manson is a complete idiot. She is one of my idols for her confidence in her appearance and comfort with her sexuality. That way she has of looking iconic and ironic all at once simply blows me away. I wish I looked like Tallulah Bankhead (I'm related to her) when I dressed up, unfortunately, I look much more like Jodie Foster (when she was in Contact), who also rocks, but in a much more quiet way.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Learning from Others...

Average people learn from their own mistakes. Stupid people never learn, and smart people learn from other's mistakes.

I want to be person C (the smart person) in this scenario. Don't you?

Which is why I advised my cousin whose sisters are all getting married thusly: "It is far, far better to not be married at 26 than to be married to the wrong person and absolutely, positively, soul suckingly miserable, because when you hit 28 and are a single divorcee (perhaps with a baby) you will sigh and wish like hell you had stayed single. Seriously. I promise you."

She said it made her feel a whole lot better than all her friends who keep telling her she'll find someone.

It made me think of a comedian whom I saw over the weekend. He did a gag where he said that he got married and he was all concerned with the fact that "This is IT. I'm stuck , I can't leave her." And they went on their miserable way for a year or so and then they had a baby, and he looked down at that baby and realized he really could have left before that. "

I mean, that's it isn't it? We get into these situations with our lives and think we're stuck, because we're down in this hole looking out, and not until something else happens do we realize how easy that very difficult looking extraction really would have been... until this new thing.

So, take a look at your life and be happy where you are because it could really, truly be a lot worse- and if you're sitting there flipping off your screen because you're all, "nuh-unh it cannot get worse! My Life SUCKS!" Then, you know, in your heart of hearts what you could do to make it better and JUST THROW a FUCK-IT at it until it sticks. Dump him. Dump her. Move out. Quit your job. Stop being friends with her. Take your ball and go home. Sucky times when you're doing what you choose are always GREAT in the end because you WILL BE proud of yourself. And nothing helps you sleep well at night more than being honest with yourself and proud of that tough choice.

Friday, April 06, 2007


So, I was taught that average people talk about things, ignorant people talk about other people and great people talk about ideas... and this entire blog seems to be a litany of other people's foibles, not a discourse on ideas. Which is not ok by me. I am supposed to be a philosophical lawyer- not a rail on my idiot clients lawyer.

Upon reflection, its a coping mechanism- how else can I deal with the idiocy of my clients unless I can call them idiots(in my mind, not to their faces) and treat them accordingly in this blog? Its a delicate line between talking down to someone, and explaining something to them in a way they can understand and I constantly struggle to find the right words to explain difficult concepts to my clients in a respectful way. People are loathe to tell you when they don't understand- because they then feel their ignorance and no one likes to feel like they don't understand something. But the thing is, as a lawyer, its critical to me to convey an understanding of the process to them, so that they understand their responsibilities and rights in Court. If I fail to do this, I fail my client.

But what am I do do with a client who just... doesn't get it? I mean, I have an hour or two max, there is only so much I can do. I can summarize the information for my client whom I suspect doesn't read- and doesn't want to tell me, but I cannot make him pay attention. I can tell him that the fact that he's not paying attention is why we're in this situation- but I cannot make him listen. I can ask him (this is where I feel like I am crossing the line into patronizing them) to repeat what I said, or to tell me what he is agreeing to in his own words... but shoot- they're not children- most of these people are older than I- I feel like I'm giving them a pop quiz in class when I do that. "Now class, can you tell me the difference between consecutive and concurrent sentences and what that means to you?"

I have had two clients lately who have written me letters from jail telling me that they didn't understand how long they would be in jail when they entered into their agreement. This really, really bothers me.

I sat down and added up their days for them, I TOLD THEM, in plain English- if you accept this agreement, you will be in jail for 360 days, minus any good time that you earn. This is what you are agreeing to- if you don't want to agree that's fine. We can have a trial- that's what I get paid to do- try your case.

I told them I had no control over "good time." I told them I have no control over whether or not another jail will give them credit on their sentence there while they are in jail here- but if you have your lawyer over there call me I'll get them any information they need... but still I receive the pleading letter.

I have to evaluate the letters against my own standard- just because they feel I have failed them doesn't mean I have failed them- because. Because so many of them are consciously trying to manipulate me and The System. Because, after 25 charges in three years for Theft III, Possession of Paraphernalia, public intox, loitering in a drug house and so forth, I figured I only had to tell you once that if you were arrested again while on this probation you would serve Three Hundred and Sixty DAYS in the City jail. I told you the prosecutor was out of patience and that he was making this serious this time. I told you to go to rehab. I put the phone number of six free programs-- and their applications-- in your hand. What more can I do? I am not your mama.

I will however, review everything and write you a letter.

And I will think about this and decide to make a change here- on my blog. No more vacuous amusing little pieces. Unless they're really really funny. I will begin now a series of "Good Advice I have received and other random aphorisms."