Keeping the Court Happy and Content

By Judge Dale Tipps, Murfreesboro

Someone recently forwarded me a list of pet peeves compiled by a judge in another state. The list contains seventy-eight items, and many of them pulled no punches.

In the interest of promoting a kinder, gentler blog, I decided to rework the list into ten suggestions for keeping your trial judge happy and content. And don’t you want a happy, contented judge to hear your case? So here is my list, in no particular order:

  1. As you prepare your pre-hearing filings, please omit any unnecessary documents, especially multiple copies of the same medical records or medical records that have no bearing on the issues. The employee’s kidney stone treatment is not relevant to his shoulder injury and isn’t interesting enough to justify making me read it.
  2. Before you object during the hearing, ask yourself, do I really need to object? Now ask yourself again. If the answer is “yes,” make the objection – the admissibility of evidence is a vital part of our process. However, just because it’s hearsay doesn’t mean it’s damaging to your case. Consider letting it go. Excessive objections, especially on points that don’t matter, may disturb the zen-like demeanor of your judge, especially if it appears the intent is to frustrate or confuse an unrepresented party.
  3. Think about how your trial exhibits look. Are they poorly scanned or illegible? Are they cumbersome? Remember, Rule 0800-02-21-.16 provides some very specific requirements about organizing, exchanging, and indexing medical records.
  4. Speaking of the rules, don’t forget that we have some. We recently even condensed them down to a single collection for your convenience. (You can find them on the Bureau’s website or just click here.) You might want to review these periodically, as well as just before you file that dispositive motion. Think how much fun it will be to see the blank look on the judge’s face when you cite a rule and he has to look it up. (Disclaimer: This will not work on all judges, just the short ones with facial hair.)
  5. During the hearing, please only direct your arguments to the bench, not to one another. You don’t want the judge to feel left out.
  6. Proofread your briefs and other filings before you file them. Then proofread them again. Maybe ask someone else to look at them, too. You’re not going to unhappily lose your case because of a split infinitive (see what I did there?), but misspellings, typos, or poorly constructed prose aren’t going to help, either. I mean, if you’re asking the judge to find in your favor, make it as easy as possible.
  7. Please be punctual. We’re doing so much by telephone these days, and attorneys or their clients frequently don’t call on time (or at all). When this happens, it forces me to make small talk with the people on the line or just sit in silence. I’m not sure which one is more awkward. A caveat for defense counsel who explained the call-in process to an unrepresented party: I know, and I understand.
  8. Wondering what is the best legal argument for your case? Curious about whether current statutory or case law supports your position? Should you depose that doctor or file a C-32? Those are good questions. But the judge and the court staff can’t provide free legal advice. And I’m pretty sure we’re not allowed to charge you for it. So please don’t ask questions of substantive law or trial practice.
  9. Is this discovery dispute avoidable? You already know that Rule 0800-02-21-.17(5) requires a statement certifying a good-faith effort to resolve the issue by agreement. But what if you just don’t like the other attorney or party? That’s okay, really. Not everyone is as likeable as you and I. But maybe pretend you do. Instead of just sending one email, call them. Talk to them. Confer. It might resolve the issue. It may even increase the judge’s sense of well-being to know that you really made the effort.
  10. You may enjoy a good fight. Your opposing counsel may enjoy a good fight. I assure you that the judge does not. Not everything needs to be a battle. For the sake of the judge’s equanimity and blood pressure, please set personal grievances or irrelevant fights aside during your hearing. The Court needs you to identify and address only the core issues. If the other side didn’t produce some piece of evidence until recently, or if they said unkind things about your dog, the trial is not time to talk about it. If it was a problem, you could have brought it to the Court’s attention with a motion (unless it was the thing about the dog). The only relevant fact now is that you have the evidence, so offer it and let’s go. If this is difficult for you, it may be a geographical limitation. I can recommend some Southern literature that will teach you how to unhealthily suppress your feelings and pretend we’re all one happy family, at least for the duration of the hearing.

Did you know?

Peeves appeared in all the Harry Potter books, but none of the films.

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