I'm in the middle of a divorce action in Suffolk County, NY. We have had 3 conferences already, none with any resolution (opposing counsel filed a pendent lite motion and we have provided a draft global settlement agreement). All three times my counsel and opposing counsel have met with the judge, in private, without me, or my soon to be ex, present. I know the rules for matrimonial actions are different from civil actions, but am I legally able to accompany my counsel when this occurs? I have no idea what is happening backstage and I want a clear picture of what is being discussed as I am sick of wasting my time. For all I know, it's a boys club and they are just joking around back there driving up the legal fees. If I am legally able to attend, please provide the statute section.
You are...but It will annoy your judge. Lawyers only conferences are designed to allow the attorneys and the judge to frankly discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the positions on issues and for the judge to shorten the process by making suggestions...
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No. The conferences in chambers are between the Judge (or his law secretary) and the lawyers. If you want to be heard by the judge you can request it and the judge will take the bench and a court reporter will have to be present. This is NOT A GOOD IDEA. You should trust your lawyer. If not you should consider getting a new one.
The above is a general answer and is not considered legal advice. You should contact an attorney before proceeding to take any legal action, signing any papers or upon service of a summons.
The Judge likely does not want litigants in Chambers. You can insist that everything be done in open court but that is not a good idea. I suggest that you consult with your lawyer.
I am a former federal and State prosecutor and have been handling criminal defense and personal injury cases for over 18 years. The above answer, and any follow up comments or emails, is for informational purposes only and not meant as legal advice.
A divorce case is heard in the Supreme Court, which is a court of record. As such, you are entitled to insist that all proceedings be held in open court and on the record. Depending on the judge, this may be some cause for irritation, however, since the usual approach is to conference in chambers and off the record. Speak with your attorney as to the best approach --- a lack of transparency may be a good trade off, if more gets accomplished in the informal setting of a chambers conference, especially if the alternative is annoying the judge.
Only lazy or inept judges/court attorneys conduct these chamber conferences. These conferences in chambers speed up the proceedings considerably. The court hears what it want to hear and renders decisions without formal evidentiary hearings. Most judges have no idea about objections practice which involves properly responding to objections as to he admissibility of documents, experts and lay witness testimony. I am in front of one of these judges on a foreign divorce case and the judge does not know about the admissibility of attested foreign judgments. So we are teaching the judge the rules by using days of expert witness testimony at the expense of the litigants.
While I have no clue about your case and its facts, I can hypothesize some things., Custody has to go to mom whether she is fit or unfit. During one of these secret conferences, it could be that the court attorney is hammering your attorney to surrender custody no matter the actual facts of your case. The opponent may be bringing up issues without factual support and the court attorney is buying into these issues and making rulings on them. This may explain the course of the case as going in the wrong direction completely. Your lawyer may be undergoing attack. "We were thinking of sanctioning you, sir." "Where is your updated statement of net worth?" These questions are a way to put your lawyer on the defensive and cause him to hush up during the conference causing more damage.
Judges are quite lost on discovery issues. They may have no practice experience with CPLR §3101 which mandates open discovery. Suppose your wife runs a home daycare center and her lawyer is preventing/blocking production of all of her financial records. The typical judge will take no action whatsoever if a self-employed spouse discloses no financials. It is even more rare that a judge will order a forensic accountant when there is a business to evaluate because the judge may not realize that there is a business to evaluate if the spouse's attorney argues there is no business. If there is a daycare center, the lawyer will say it's occasional baby-sitting the spouse does. The general idea is to trivialize everything to the point that no trial on anything is needed and settlement on the basic terms is all that is needed.
I cannot tolerate these chamber calls at all. When I go back into chambers, I feel as if I am the odd man out demanding forensics, appointments of law guardians or non-appointments of law guardians. I row against the current with business evaluators, false arrests of innocent husbands, alcoholic spouses and so on. I get accused of prolonging proceedings when I exercise the apparatus to deliver some justice. It's a painful process and we all voted it in.
So you cannot accompany your lawyer and the last thing you want to do is go against him when everyone else goes against him. He'll bolt from your case.
Though you may not follow your attorney in the back, I disagree with some of my colleagues who suggest that asking the judge to hold the conference in open court will annoy the judge. Judges however prefer narrowing issues and do not like to be blindsided. Therefore it is common practice and certainly a good idea to give them a heads up before we go on the record. That means that you should have a heart to heart with your lawyer and tell him that no matter what's said in the back, you would still like the opportunity to see the judge. Therefore, let the lawyers go in the back to conference provided everybody knows that you still want a record. I have personally done it this way many times and makes everyone happy. In addition, sometimes you change the court s mind on the issue once they see the litigants and they're on the record. Keeps everyone honest and you know what you paying for. But, word to the wise, once on the record , your adversary might be less keen to be forthcoming, to be reasonable, to concede issues and the process is undoubtedly more adversarial. You and your lawyers should know what fits your case better. Moral is however that I don't believe the judge cares one way or another; especially in Suffolk. Best of luck
No. You cannot attend an in chambers conference. Just look at it like this, if you don't have an attorney this type of conference would not be permitted at all. These can be very beneficial. There are many matters that can be addressed without the client present. I can say for certain, that if your lawyer and the other lawyer wanted to collude with each other to screw you--they wouldn't need to involve the judge. So don't be worried about them going in to see the judge to screw you. They can do that by themselves. Judges are rarely ever involved in assisting attorneys in ripping off clients. If anything, the judge could detect this type of thing and the in chambers meeting could be beneficial to you. Do not assume the judge is bad. If there was no issue to discuss, the judge is not going to waste his/her time hanging out with the lawyers in chambers. If you don't trust your lawyer and your lawyer is not telling what is going on--address that with your lawyer. Your lawyer should be explaining what is going on.
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