Monday, July 1, 2013

Courtroom Tips: Clerks, Dockets, Facts, Defendants & Plaintiffs

   Most of us will never go to Court to serve a Warrant In Debt, Summons For Unlawful Detainer, or file a Writ of Possession. Most of us will go to Traffic Court for a traffic ticket. In Court, and in adult life, Ignorance is no excuse. Especially in Court.
   So, here are a few tips to impress the "Charlie Checkpoint" police, the office Clerks, the Court Officers and the Judge:
  • No cell phones allowed in Court, because they take photos. Signs are posted everywhere in English and Spanish all over the outside and inside of the Courthouse, so leave your cell phone in your car, or "Charlie Checkpoint" will make you walk your phone back to your car. Bummer.
  • When going through "Charlie Checkpoint" (similar to any airport) remove your bulky coat, watch, large jewelry, and all contents in your pockets. To make it simple, dress simply, leave your coat in the car if you can and empty out all the crap in your pockets before getting out of your car.  
  • If you beep while stepping through the "Charlie Checkpoint" arch, stand with your arms out and "Charlie" will have to wave you over with "the wand." Stand still, be patient and know you are almost done with this process and will be fine.
  • Head on over to the Dockets. These are typed up, alphabetical lists posted on the walls, usually directly next to the Courtrooms. Look for your name, and when you find it, go to the corresponding Courtroom, usually labeled A,B, C, or 1,2, 3. Some wall posts will even list what type of Court: Circuit, Traffic, General or Criminal. If you cannot find your name listed, or are in a terrible hurry, the Clerk in the office will look your case up for you. 
  • Once inside your correct Courtroom, walk up the isle and sit as close as you can to "The Bar." Only Lawyers can sit in front of "The Bar" because they have passed "The Bar" exam. Many times, the Officer of the Court will ask everyone to move up and sit as close in as they can, so you may as well do so right from the start.
  • Cases with Lawyers will be called first. Then, all other cases will be called in NO specific order whatsoever. Again, an opportunity to listen and learn. 
  • If you are in court defending yourself against a case brought against you, you are the DEFENDANT. If you are prosecuting, or bringing a case against someone else, you are the PLAINTIFF. 
  • Some Courtrooms have signs posted on one side or another below "The Bench" the ledge below where the Judge sits. Some Courtrooms have the Judge's name posted. Some Courtrooms do not post the Judge's name. Some Courtrooms even have instructions posted such as: "Do not lean on The Bench" "Please leave bags and keys on the table before approaching The Bench," "Please stand up straight."  Read and pay attention, please.
  • Take off your hat, take off your sunglasses, spit out your gum. NO reading, NO talking, NO whispering, NO needlepoint, NO sleeping. Court is an opportunity to listen and pay attention. You may be surprised at what you hear, and you may learn something.
  • Make an effort to show up in Court looking presentable, professional, and serious, please. As Barbara Walters once said: "Clean hair beats a new dress any day." It does not cost any money to wash and dry your hair. It does not cost any money to clean and iron your clothes. Tuck your shirt in and wear a belt. Pull your pants up. Wear a shirt with a collar. Wear a shirt that does not show your Bra straps. Try looking like you are going to church, not cleaning out your garage. The Judge will be impressed you made an effort to look nice in her/his Courtroom, and you will feel better about yourself.
  • Some Courtrooms are kept cold, so you may want to wear or bring a light cardigan sweater or jacket.
  • Leave your crying babies, talking toddlers, screaming children, and ailing elderly family members at home. Bringing the family "Peanut Gallery" to Court with you will not help your case. Unless you are a "character witness" in a trial, there is no need to come to Court. We all have family. We all have children. We all have our own family circumstances. Make arrangements for any babysitting/care giving needs ahead of time. If you cannot afford a baby sitter or a care giver, make arrangements with a neighbor, church or community organization to swap out sitting/care giving jobs. Have a "Plan B" just in case. Organize this sitting ahead of time. Hearings and Trials are always scheduled at least 30 days out. You have plenty of time to organize.    
  • Every Judge runs her or his courtroom his or her way. Some judges are formal and stick to the rules but have trouble making decisions. Some judges roll through their cases quickly and are persnickety about the paperwork being filled out perfectly. Some judges run their Courtrooms slower and are better listeners. Pause, look, listen and be aware.
  • Do not speak unless spoken to. When the judge speaks to you, speak up, and speak clearly. Answer the Judge: "Yes, your Honor" or "Yes Sir" and "No Ma'am." The Judge will make sure everyone gets their turn to speak. The Judge may help you along with your paperwork filings, but cannot give you legal advice. 
  • We have all heard the expression: "Just the facts, man." The Judge wants just the facts. Bring all your documents, contracts, cancelled checks, invoices, photos, maps, and receipts. Facts, facts, facts.    
  •  Know if you are in a Hearing or a Trial. Read any papers mailed to you. If you do not understand the paperwork mailed to you, bring the papers to the Clerk in the office and ask them any questions you may have. The Clerk will help you through the paperwork process, but cannot give you legal advice. Do your "homework." Remember: Ignorance is no excuse.
  • Be nice to the Clerks in the office. The Clerk can be your best friend. Fill out all your paperwork to the best of your ability. If you do not know how to fill out your paperwork, the Clerks in the office may be able to help you with filling out forms, but are not allowed to give you legal advice. You may need legal advice for other fillings and procedures. The Clerks in the office will let you know.

Make an effort to prepare yourself for Court. Dress respectfully, act respectfully, bring all your completed paperwork with you, stick to the facts, and know your Courtroom etiquette. You will feel better about yourself and have a better experience in Court. Good luck to you!