Through my internship with a Circuit Court Judge and thereafter as an attorney, I have seen unacceptable behaviors exhibited in the courtroom. That said, I often prepare my clients for the things he/she should do and not do when going before the judge. I am often amazed at the things other people do, who obviously were not properly counseled on these issues. Thus, I thought this blog could assist in providing helpful hints as to proper courtroom etiquette. DO 1. Dress to impress. This is very important. The first impression the judge gets of you is when you walk into his chambers/courtroom. Make sure that impression is a positive one. Men, dress a suit and tie, or if you do not own one, at least dress slacks and a collared shirt and tie. Women, wear a dress or dress/pants suit and heels. If you are going to court straight from work, take your court clothes with you to work and take five minutes to change. While there are some strategic reasons to leave on your work clothes, (i.e. you are a police officer, fire rescuer or in the military), generally, you should change. 2. Respect the Judge. Anytime you speak to the judge, always start with “Your Honor". It shows respect, and is noticed by the judge. When the judge comes into the courtroom, stand up and wait for the judge to tell you to sit down. If the judge is going to leave the courtroom, stand again until the judge is gone. 3. Address the Judge. The judge is the person making decisions in your case. Therefore, you should make your statements or present your testimony directly to the judge. Maintain eye contact with the judge. Too often litigants address the other party or the attorney and not the judge. Big mistake. 4. Be Prepared. Know what you are going to say. Practice saying it in front of a mirror. This will calm your nerves and assist you in getting your point across to the judge effectively. Even if you have an attorney, you need to practice your testimony. Know what will be asked of you and practice answering the questions.
Speak Clearly, Slowly and Audibly. The judges often complain they (a) cannot hear the witness, or (b) cannot understand the witness. Don’t be shy. If the judge does not hear what you have to say, there is no point in saying it. Also, most people speak faster when they are nervous. Be cognizant of this and make sure you are not speaking to rapidly. This is where practice helps. 6. Respect Everyone Else. Show respect for everyone in the courtroom. The judge is aware of the fact that you are not overly fond of the other side, but respect is a must. Lack of respect is not tolerated. 7. Stay on topic. It is easy to get off topic when you are upset or nervous. Remember what issues are before the judge and stick to those issues. Again preparation will help you stay on course. The same should be said when you are answering questions. Be short and concise with your answer. 8. Take A Pad and Pen. You should have a pad and pen with you so you can take notes and write down issues you will need to address when it is your turn to speak. You should do this even if you have an attorney. 9. Take a Minute. When you are being questioned, take a breath after the question is asked. Think about the question for just a second before you answer. This helps you to formulate the best answer you can. It is not Jeopardy. You will not win by hitting the buzzer first. DON’T DO 1. No Gum. Do not chew gum in the courtroom or chambers. Even if you will not be testifying, no gum is allowed. 2. Turn cell phones off. It is best to turn off your cell phone before going into the courthouse. If you have to leave it on vibrate for some reason, make sure you inform the judge and request permission. Some judges do not even permit cell phones to be left on vibrate. 3. No Jeans, Shorts, T-shirts, Flip flops, or Revealing Clothing. This type of clothing is very disrespectful. Again, remember you should dress to impress. 4. No Excessive/Expensive Jewelry and Clothing. While you want to dress to impress, do not go overboard either. Especially in certain cases (i.e. child support and alimony) this is not a very good idea no matter whether you are the Plaintiff or the Defendant. Also, when you are the party asking for money, this may make the judge less sympathetic to your cause. Similarly, when you are the defendant, it may give the impression that you can pay money damages. 5. Do Not Interrupt. Never Interrupt the judge. The judge will listen to both sides. When the one side is presenting his/her case, listen and, unless you or your counsel has a proper objection to make, do not Interrupt them. You can take notes to ensure that you remember to address your point when it is your turn. 6. Do Not Use Negative Body Language. Do not roll your eyes, sigh, shake your head “no" over and over, cross your arms, etc. This is very disrespectful and the judge will not appreciate it, and may even tell you to stop. Also, do not put your elbows on the table. 7. Do Not Guess. If you do not understand the question, do not answer what you think the other side is asking you. Ask that person to ask the question again and let the person know you do not understand the question. If you understand the question, but do not know the answer, do not speculate. Say, “I do not know". If you do not remember, say so. It is the other sides’ job to corner you and get you to say what they want you to say. Do not fall prey to these tactics. 8. Do Not Feel Intimidated. It is the other side’s job to put holes in your testimony and to get you to try to agree that the other side’s position is more accurate. The other side will likely try to twist your words or try to get you to change your mind. If you believe you are correct, do not get intimidated and change your position just because you are being pressured. Stand your ground. If you follow these rules, you should make a positive impression upon the judge and even the other side. This goes a long way. Our firm represents clients in family law matters in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties. Therefore, if we can be of assistance to you, please feel free to contact us at (954) 316-3496.
Penny T. Miller, Esq.