Monday, October 8, 2012

My Day in Court

Photo: Movie promo poster of The Verdict from its Wikipedia page.  Loved this movie.  One of Paul Newman's two best roles, in my opinion, right up there with Nobody's Fool.

I've been away for awhile again, as my PC is still unusable right now, as my upstairs is still getting renovated.  Though I should have the time soon to put my office back together, and then I'll get one of these babies posted every three days or so, like I usually do.

Anyway, the new experience this week was when I spent Friday in court--not for something I did wrong, either.  I've been an onlooker in a courtroom a few times, but I've never testified with a lawyer before.  (I did testify once in front of a judge because of a speeding ticket I got as a college student, but that's another blog entry.)  I learned a few things:

--Possibly even more than justice, judges want expediency.  Mine had over 50 cases of its type to get through on Friday alone; he had a system that moved, moved, moved.  Open folder.  Say names.  Get the lawyer to say what kind of case it is (contest, etc.).  This took awhile.  At the end of it, he practically begged everyone to talk to the parties in the hallway and reach a conclusion themselves; otherwise he had several days of cases in front of him at that time, never mind the others in the upcoming days.  I can see that life would be hellish if many of those aren't settled by the parties.  To my surprise, many of them were.  So he called them up, asked the plaintiff what the deal was, and told the defendants that these agreements were now also court orders.  He asked if everyone understood the agreements, if they entered them of their own free will, and if they had any other questions for him.  He got rid of maybe 1/3 of his docket this way.  He was very happy when people solved the problems themselves, and said so.  He had sort of a sense of humor.

--Judges take the cases in front of other judges.  Not like divorce cases, as in the infamous mistake by Brian de Palma in The Untouchables, but simple matters like mine.  So a courtroom cop came into the courtroom and told my courtroom's cop that the judge next door was out of cases and was willing to take some of his.  My judge said he wasn't ready for that, as he had just one case at that time to send over.  Like his butt was on fire, my lawyer jumped up and said our case was of the same type, and that we were willing to go next door immediately.  The judge okayed this.  On the way over, me and my lawyer went over a few things, and then suddenly I was in front of the (smiling, classy and attractive) judge, saying my Yesses and Nos nervously (the judge seemed to be giving me one of those understanding smiles) and then she ruled in my favor for everything I was asking for.  Once in front of the judge, the whole thing took about twenty seconds.

--It's not just a tv or movie thing: apparently crossing The Bar is a serious thing.  I blissfully walked up to my lawyer to let him know the court had misspelled something important, and he practically pushed me into the hallway.  Embarrassed, and with a nervous smile, he told me that the courtroom cop would've tackled me to the floor if he'd been in the room.  (I hadn't noticed that he wasn't; my venture wasn't a planned thing.)  I'm curious now as to how the judge took it, or if he'd even noticed.

--My lawyer clapped me on the back and said that I'd done a great job.  He's done that a million times and probably forget how nerve-wracking it can be.  If I put him on my job's stage, I bet he'd be nervous as hell, too.

--Only movie and tv courtrooms look polished and ornately wooden.  Mine had a flat, grey carpet from around 1982, and it had folds and bumps in it, too.  I was hoping someone would trip over those, but nobody did.  The judge's desk and chair, and the witness box, were simple wooden things, nothing special, and the podiums for the defendant and plaintiff were low-grade wood and something else I can't place.  The snazziest part of the courtroom were the lawyers' chairs.  Everyone else got thin wooden pews.  The Bar, which I crossed, seemed like nice, but faux, marble.

--About 50 cases for 5 lawyers.  Two of them seemed to represent at least half of all of the individuals and companies.  And the lawyers are into expediency almost as much as the judges are.  Mine jumped up like his butt was on fire to get us into the other courtroom because he couldn't wait to get out of there.

--Not to judge, but you can tell the plaintiffs from the defendants.  The plaintiffs, such as myself, wore suits or other professional clothing and ties.  The defendants, and I do mean all of them, wore ripped gym pants, or jeans from another decade, and were often unshowered and overall icky.  One guy's scalp was red and rashy, and another woman looked like she hadn't showered or changed her clothing in this calendar year.  One defendant leaned on the podium, and spoke and interrupted the judge like he owned the place.  He lost.  What are these people thinking?

--The only thing worse than looking and behaving like that is not showing up at all.  Mine didn't.  The plaintiff's lawyer asks for an immediate judgment, and they always get it in their favor.  Fast.  When I went to the other judge's courtroom, the first thing she said was: "I assume you're in front of me now because the other party didn't show up?"  When my lawyer said, "Yes, your Honor," she sat there and clearly waited for us to be done with our act so she could make her judgment for us.  And when you don't show up, the plaintiff's lawyer will ask the judge to also award court costs and lawyer fees, which my judge did.  Can't get blood from a stone, but we got the judgments, anyway.

--Very disappointing: No gavels, and no pounding of gavels.  Apparently that's for effect on the screen.  And no one said anything excessively stupid, like on Judge Judy, so there weren't any speeches or moralizing, either.

--Judges mediate as much, if not more, than they judge.


  1. I guess snazzy looking courtrooms are saved for Judge Judy or big time cases. Nothing is ever as it seems like in the movies. Then again, I do recall sitting in a very polished looking courtroom during my second stint at Jury Duty in the Bronx. So go figure. Maybe it depends on the type of case?

    It's a shame the justice system sounds so warped. Right and wrong don't seem as crucial as getting out in time for lunch.

  2. I was thinking the same, that the splendor of the courtroom depends on the type of case. I'm guessing that federal cases get federal courtrooms, which would look like the one you described. Was your case a federal case? Maybe it also has to do with whether it's a misdemeanor or a felony, or a small claims case. Mine would be classified as small claims, though the $5,000 of damage incurred may be a misdemeanor. Who knows? Can't get blood from a stone, so the classification of it won't matter.

    In regards to your second part, the first judge seemed very fair, and my lawyer said the judge was held in high regard by lawyers. The judge who ended up deciding my case was of course extremely fair--since she judged in my favor!!!