A View From the Bench

“Every action done in company ought to be done with some sign of respect to those who are present.”  –  George Washington.

For the last seven months, I have been honored to serve as one of your Superior Court judges.   After practicing law for twenty years in this community and now having served on the bench, I offer a few suggestions on an important topic for all who practice in Thurston County-the need for a return to civility.

1.     Courtesy and respect go a long ways.

Keep your word.  Treat others how you want to be treated and how you want your client treated.

2.     Show Up Early and Always On Time.

Lawyers are not always on time.  Neither are judges.  All of Thurston County judges strive to make every reasonable effort to timely assume the bench. When I was a practicing attorney, I appeared in court almost every weekday, and, more often than not, several times a day and in several different courtrooms.  Time is money.  Time is valuable.  I recognize lawyers charge by hour.  Clients and lawyers should not be penalized because court starts late or because the opposing lawyer arrives late.

If you may be late for court, please telephone opposing counsel in advance.   About ten years ago, The Honorable James Sawyer (Retired) and I were awaiting the arrival of a lawyer then 45 minutes late.  He remarked to me, “I have noticed that the lawyers who are most often late are usually more jovial than the people who have to wait for them.”  Five minutes later, the late-arriving lawyer was $250 poorer.  Appearing on time is an act of responsibility and courtesy.  Let’s all work on being more courteous and responsible.

3.     The Courtroom process should be conducted in a respectful and dignified manner. 

Judges have an obligation to establish and maintain proper behavior and respect for legal proceedings.  The Superior Court judges intend to fulfill this obligation and I invite attorneys to assist in that regard.   The courtroom is not an open meeting place.  Courtrooms are where legal hearings are conducted.  Every legal hearing, regardless of how simple it may seem to the non-involved, is important to at least one party.   Please keep distractions to an absolute minimum.

If attorneys need to confer with one another, or need to confer with clients, those conversations should occur outside of the courtroom.  Many of us, including myself, have appeared in court hundreds of times.  We are accustomed to a courtroom setting.  Let’s not forget, however, that there is often a person (or persons) in the court who has never been in a courtroom.  They seek how the lawyers conduct themselves to one another, the court, and the court’s staff.  If you are being disrespectful to others, the person who has never been in court before will notice.  I recall several conversations I have had with clients over the years wherein the client shared his or her amazement at the lack of decorum in a courtroom.

When Ozzie Guillen was hired to manage the Florida Marlins (a team then rife with discontent), he was quoted at his introductory press conference, “If you’re not ready to come here and play by my rules, you are not going to play at all.”  A harsh directive, but he made his point.  A judge has an obligation to allow access to the court, but she or he also sets the rules.

4.     Please be courteous and respectful to staff, including court clerks and court reporters.

Every day our staff does amazing work.  They are also very nice people and, as a result, reluctant to tell you that you are imposing on their time.  Ask yourself-What can I do to help staff, not impose on them?

All of our court staff, including our judicial assistants, have incredible workloads.  They have timelines.  Having lawyers stop by to visit, call on staff, or send unnecessary and numerous emails interferes with their work and the work of the Court.

Similarly, lawyers engaging court reporters in idle conversation before, after and during court hearings is distracting.  Court reporters can only work so fast.  When you step up to the podium to address the Court, check to make sure that you are not speaking too fast for the court reporter.  Do not speak over one another and remind your clients and witnesses each time to do the same.  If the court reporter is unfamiliar with you, please provide her or him with a business card.  The court reporters will appreciate your efforts.

5.    Please address all remarks and arguments to the court; not to opposing counsel. 

You would be surprised to witness how often this occurs.  Please use surnames and appropriate titles.  The lawyer on the other side of a case is not “Joe.” Rather, he is “Mr. Smith.”

Regardless of whether you agree or not with the opposing party’s arguments/position, you and your client will have your opportunity to present your position and arguments.   Please do not interrupt their presentations, roll your eyes, or smirk at their positions.  The more civil you are, the greater your effectiveness and advocacy on behalf of your client.

 

In conclusion, thank you to all of the lawyers who have appeared in front of me, prepared and on time, respectful and courteous to me, staff and opposing counsel, and who thereby represent their clients and this community in an admirable fashion.   I look forward to many years of working with you in our joint efforts to better our practices and uphold the stellar reputation of our local legal community.

Jill CarterA View From the Bench