At the CLE, a panel of judges imparted wisdom about what attorneys should and should not do in the court room.
The presenters included Angela Turner-Quigless from the Missouri Court of Appeals, Judge David Vincent from St. Louis County Circuit Court, and David Roither, City of St. Louis Associate Circuit Court.
To start, Judge Vincent referenced a statewide survey of the trial judges and commissioners addressing, “What Impresses Judges About Attorneys and What Turns Them Off?” The Ethics of Practice Management: Playing by the Rules (Missouri Bar Survey Edition – 2016 Update)
As indicated in the graph below –
The top five responses about what impresses them include:
1) Being prepared
5) Knowledge of Laws.
The top five responses about what turns them off include:
1) Unprofessional Behavior
4) Lack of Knowledge of Laws.
5) Other Reasons
Impressed by attorneys who naturally disagree but not disparage opponent, candid on status of law, are punctual, dress appropriately (clients also), have respect for court and others, pre-mark exhibits, prepare instructions early, admit weaknesses of case, have knowledge of facts and applicable law, present case succinctly, provide case law, and properly filling out paper work.
Also, brevity, promptness, and communicating with opponent and resolving issues.
Turned off with increased “personalizing,” gamesmanship, redundancy, addressing clients by first name only, misrepresenting facts and law, providing unconfirmed information, arguing in front of judge or jury, “petty bickering”, lack of civility and professionalism, not accepting court rulings, coaching clients to lie, unprepared, not properly dressed, not informing themselves about client, details of case, and division procedures, and ex parte communications
Although there are common themes regarding “dos and don’ts” in the court room, Judge Vincent emphasized that every judge and every court room is different. He recommended calling judges’ clerks to ascertain judge-specific quirks.
Personally, Judge Vincent does not like it when attorneys or witnesses interrupt him. Interestingly, he divulged that the judges all talk to each other about attorneys and their reputations, so civility is important!
From a Court of Appeals perspective, Judge Quigless said that she cannot emphasize Missouri Supreme Court Rule 84 (procedures in the Court of Appeals) enough. In appellate briefs, attorneys should not have argumentative statements of fact, and their “points relied on” alone dictate what issues the Court can consider.
She reiterated the importance of preserving issues on appeal during a trial and establishing a proper record. Objections should be specific, an offer of proof must be made, and the precise error must be stated in the offer of proof, because the judges cannot act as advocates. As a practice tip, she strongly recommended that attorneys attach important exhibits to the appendix in their brief.
Judge Roither agreed with the survey that attorneys need to be prepared and not waste his time. He also emphasized civility in the courtroom, among attorneys, with the clerk, and with the judges He explained that the judge has ultimate discretion. If an attorney does not respect him, his courtroom staff, or opposing counsel, he will be less inclined to use his discretion to favor that attorney.
Your reputation and way you conduct yourself in the courtroom matters! As summarized in the judicial survey:
“It is the duty of each lawyer to engage in conduct that brings dignity to and promotes civility in the profession. Toward that end, each lawyer shall be: respectful, trustworthy, courageous, cooperative in all dealings with judges, lawyers, clients and other members of the public that they serve.”
Here’s the introduction of my Immunity presentation: