Monday, July 14, 2014

Judges cite their pet peeves regarding courthouse behavior and give insight into their insulation from the woes of the common citizen in their courts

A recent article on focused on complaints circuit court judges in Alabama have about the people who come to their courts.

As I read the article, it reinforced for me that most judges become insulated and forget the daily struggles often afflicting the people summoned to appear before them. The article mentioned pet peeves of these judges, and their responses were proof that our judges don't get it. 

Here are there pet peeves:

1) Defendant late for court. Most criminal defendants are dirt poor. They have unreliable cars or rely on public transport. Neither are dependable. In rural counties with no public transport, defendants often don't have any way at all to court.
2) People talking in the gallery. Court takes all day usually. Try sitting completely silent all day. Judges don't do it either.
3) People using cell phones. Cell phones are also used for reading books and magazines, looking up important information on the web, emailing the office. Many defendants who have cell phones are single parents trying to manage their kids, locate or confirm their kids whereabouts, or trying to placate a boss who's pissed they're in court.
4) Small children making noises. Many poor defendants are single mothers with no one to keep their kids if they have to go to court. Often they have no daycare and often have no family to rely on.
5) A defendant interrupting them. Defendants usually interrupt because they don't understand. They are terrified. The judge is speaking in legalese. (Judges, in their infinite arrogance, think defendants understand the complex stuff we say at the bench. Trust me, they don't. It's like a deer in the headlights. After a hearing, even a hearing where the defendant has answered questions, they can't recall a thing that occurred because they were so scared.
6) A defendant, or anyone in the gallery, falling asleep or keeping their head down. "We have had to wake people up before," Jefferson County Circuit Judge Virginia Vinson noted. Most criminal defendants work blue collar jobs. Many work two jobs or double shifts to survive. Church is a quiet, comfy place, just like church. In that person's shoes, you'd fall asleep, too. I saw a prosecutor scream at a woman one day and threaten her with jail for dozing in court. I interrupted the prosecutor and told her she had no legal authority to do that. The woman told me later she worked three shifts in two days and was exhausted.
7) Defendants who don't say their "maams" or "sirs" when responding to questions. Awe, prickly, prickly. Simple yesses and nos are sufficient. One judge loses his cookies if someone, anyone, answers with "OK." Seriously? Grow up.
8) People who wear hats in court. Most blue collar folks who wear ball caps, etc., forget they even have them on. Most apologize and take them off when asked by a bailiff.
9) A defendant who smells of whiskey or beer (that will usually mean a trip to jail). This is contempt of court. Often the defendant who smells of booze tanked up before court because they're certain the courts are unfair and they are convinced they're going to jail anyway.
10) A defendant who slumps in their chair. Oh, really? I see lawyers, cops, witnesses... all manner of people slumping. Grow up.
11) People dressed inappropriately, such as Judge Pulliam whining about shirts with marijuana emblems. Hey, it's called the First Amendment. You can wear what emblem you want so long as its not obscene. How many times have I seen Bob Wilters, from the bench, give shit to someone wearing an Auburn emblem. Give me a break. Oh, and marijuana is legal in several states, thus the marijuana leaf is indeed a First Amendment commentary.
These pet peeves give us insight into just how much judges are insulated, and how much they view with some disdain the people who appear before them.

Required by Alabama law: These recoveries and testimonials are not an indication of future results. Every case is different, and regardless of what friends, family, or other individuals may say about what a case is worth, each case must be evaluated on its own facts and circumstances as they apply to the law. The valuation of a case depends on the facts, the injuries, the jurisdiction, the venue, the witnesses, the parties, and the testimony, among other factors. Furthermore,,no representation is made that the quality of legal services to be performed is greater than the services of other lawyers.

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