March 10, 2011 § 2 Comments

As a judge I can tell you it’s hard to capture every detail in my trial notes. Sometimes the witness just speaks so fast  that I stay three sentences behind, trying to catch up, and just can’t get it all. Sometimes the significance isn’t clear until much later in the trial or even when the judge is writing the opinion, and then it’s too late.  Sometimes a verbose witness will bury the critical info under an avalanche of mostly meaningless words.

Next time you have an equitable distribution case, why don’t you sit down with your client during your trial preparation and work up a spreadsheet that shows how she wants the marital estate divided.  You already have it in part with the joint property list that is included in the pre-trial order.  Why not just rearrange all those assets into the manner that your client wants them divided.   Once she identifies it, offer it into evidence, and the judge has the graphic depiction of how your client wants the case to go rather than just a gob of words.  Instead of devoting your time (and the judge’s wayward attention) to a painstaking item-by-item approach, you can zero in on how your client justifies a greater share of the marital estate, and concentrate on the several important items she just has to have.  With the preparation of a simple document you will have sharpened the focus of your case and made it more efficiently compact at the same time.

Or, if your client wants the  financial assets divided a certain way, you can show the division he wants AND add a column with reduced values for tax penalties, etc., assuming you have that proof in the record.

Or, if your client has a claim for reimbursement of medical bills, why not create a table or spreadsheet itemizing all the charges, showing dates, providers, amounts charged, amount paid by insurance, and balance, with totals.

Or, if your client wants specific visitation, why not spell it all out in a proposed schedule.

Here’s how you get them in:

You:  Let me show you a document and ask you what it is.

Witness:  It’s a table showing [my proposal to divide the marital estate/the financial assets and how I want them divided/a summary of the medical bills/my visitation proposal].

You:  Does this table accurately reflect the [marital assets/financial assets] that are already in evidence?  Or: Is this the schedule you wish the judge to adopt? 

Witness:  Yes.

You:  Now, let me ask you a few questions about this … 

When you put all those words into an exhibit, you are saving the judge all the work of trying to make notes of them at trial, and you are making sure that everything you want to say won’t be missed by the judge.  The judge will have a document to look at rather than having to ferret that information out of his sheaf of notes.

In other words, the easier you make it on the judge, the more probable it is that your client will be very happy with the outcome of the case and the job you did.

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