What You Need to Tell Your Client About Court Appearance
April 6, 2016 § 2 Comments
Your client will be a whole lot more effective and confident if you will instill a few principles about appearing in court. Here are some I would recommend:
- Always be on time. Nothing says “I don’t respect this court and anything about it” more than failing to be on time. Being late is a good way to start off on the wrong foot, sort of like spotting your opponent 3-4 baskets at the beginning of a hoops game, or a touchdown in football, or 5 runs in baseball. If your client is the chronically-late type, suggest that he calendar the event for a half-hour earlier than actually scheduled. If parking is a problem at your courthouse, urge your client to build in an extra 15 minutes for parking.
- Dress for success. Business casual is fine. T-shirts with obscene messages, jeans with more holes than cloth, dirty and smelly clothes, and any attire that gives the impression that it was acquired from a dumpster will send an overly-negative message. I used to tell clients to avoid school logos and colors: if the judge went to a rival school, he or she may wonder whether there is some nose-thumbing at play; if he or she went to the same school, the judge may think there’s some brown-nosing going on.
- Speak up. The judge has to hear what the witness says if the judge is going to take it into account. Not every courtroom has state-of-the-art amplification.
- Don’t speak over anyone. This is a chronic problem that can result in an unintelligible record. Tell your client to wait until the question is completed before speaking. Never interrupt the judge.
- When you hear “Objection” or “Object,” stop speaking. Let the judge rule and follow the instructions of the court. Objections are one way you can protect your client, and if she persists in answering over objection, she may hurt her case.
- Answer the question asked; don’t volunteer. Most questions call for a simple “yes,” “no,” “I don’t know,” or a simple date, fact, number, or the like. Volunteering information is almost always unhelpful, and can be damaging. Example: “No, I have never been convicted of a felony … but … I have fourteen convictions for petty theft, shoplifting, and simple assault.” And remember, “I don’t know” is a perfectly legitimate answer; wading off into speculation will only make trouble.
- Be familiar with the 8.05. Know how the figures for income, expenses, debt, and assets were derived. Be able to explain and defend them. It’s never impressive when a witness says something like “I don’t know where that $250 figure for entertainment came from; I guess my lawyer put that there.
- Attitude makes a difference. A beautiful butterfly receives more favorable treatment than a scorpion. An earnest witness who clearly is trying to be truthful and doing her best will receive more favorable consideration than a petty, spiteful, sarcastic, bitter, argumentative, evasive witness. It’s just human nature.
- Know your case. Help your client understand what is needed to prove his case, and the best ways to answer truthfully the key questions. Go over the major points that he will face on cross examination.
- Your judge has idiosyncracies. Everyone does, even judges. If you know from experience that the judge does not want people chewing gum in the courtroom, caution your client not to d it. If your judge hates cell phones going off, warn the client to turn his off. And so on.
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On the attitude makes a difference, several years ago I had a hearing before Judge Fairly in a conservatorship. My client was the conservator and was being questioned pretty hard by opposing counsel. After the hearing Judge Fairly, probably when I was getting the Judgment signed, he told me that he was looking at my client and thought ‘this guy is doing the best he can’.Earnestly trying does make the best witness.