[W]hen entering the courtroom for your hearing, you should know a few ground rules and expectations. It was funny to watch Jo Pesci’s character, Vinny Gambini, get in constant trouble with his behavior in the 1992 courtroom comedy, My Cousin Vinny. Quite another when it is your personal custody trial and your children’s future is on the line. Below are my…
10 Tips for Conduct Inside the Courtroom
1. Dress Very Professionally. More important than a job interview, everything about you is being looked at. You are being judged in every way to determine if you are the best custodial parent for your kids. Take it serious and Buy or Clean a Coat, Tie & Suit Prior to Court.
2. Be Very Respectfully to Everyone. This should be obvious, but as we discussed in my previous post, Court Conduct, You Never Know Who’s Watching, it is imperative to be on your best behavior at all times.
3. Be Overly Cordial to Your Ex and Her Witnesses. From the parking lot, in elevators, or waiting outside the hall, now is not a time to get into heated discussions with your Ex, any member of her party or family. Be polite, hold open doors and take the high road. Showtime Begins and Ends in Court from Your Car.
4. When Your Attorney Shows Up, Turn Off Your Phone. Courtrooms have signs reminding you to turn off phones in court. Some sessions are taped, and many have court reporters recording dictation of all that goes on. An interrupted cell phone ring is NOT how you want to be remembered. I have seen judges ask people to leave based on one single ring. Don’t let that be you. Turn it off and better yet, put it away.
5. Don’t Shuffle Papers While You Wait. Unlike in the movies, court can be a slow patience process. You may be waiting in the hall for hours. You may be sitting in the back of the courtroom waiting your turn. You could be sitting next to your attorney for long periods of time during testimony. Even on the witness standing, there may be long moments of time while you wait on the judge. Stay calm. Don’t fidget. Don’t hum or make noises. And most of all, don’t shuffle papers while you wait.
6. Speak Slowly, Softly & Clearly. Listen to the question. Think for a moment. Answer only the question asked and do so slowly, softly and clearly.
7. Make Eye Contact and Smile. I realize this may be the worst day and experience of your life. Nevertheless, look up at your attorney or the judge and make good eye contact. Your body language speaks more powerful than your words. When you get the chance to talking about your kids, smile. After all, they are the happiest thing that has come out of this troubled relationship.
8. Address Opposing Counsel as Mr. or Mrs. (Last Name). It is a subtle and very respectful touch. On the stand during cross-examination, I had an attorney remind me constantly that I could call her “Kendell.” I thanked her repeatedly and continued to address her as “Mrs. Goetz.” It threw off her game and added confidence to mine.
9. Address the Judge as “Your Honor” and…
10. Stand Every Time the Judge Enters the Room. Once again this is a respect issue and certainly proper conduct for inside the courtroom.
What have you observed? What would you add to the list?
Image courtesy of Penn State Law on Flickr.com. Featured image from My Cousin Vinny courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.