No matter what your purpose is in court on any particular day, there are some steadfast rules that cross all state lines. It doesn’t matter what the offense/issue is; be it traffic summons, divorce proceedings or arranging parental visitations.
1. Dress appropriately. Avoid sweat suits, belly shirts, mini skirts, sneakers, low riding pants, anything spandex, jeans*, character shirts, (i.e. Tweety Bird, Scarface, etc.) If you do not own a suit or dress clothes, clean, plain jeans with a collar or button down shirt, with shoes or boots work well. You would choose clothing for court, as if you were choosing clothing for a job interview or for attending religious service.
2. Throw your gum/candy away. You don’t want to speak to a judge with gum rolling around your mouth.
3. Turn off your cell phone. Turn off your cell phone. You know what? Turn off your cell phone. When a judge hears that phone ring, or sing a song, anything you have to say after that moment will fall on deaf ears. The judge turns off her phone before coming into court, because she is going to focus on what she is doing. You should return the courtesy. If you absolutely must have your phone on for extenuating circumstances, put it on vibrate.
4. Be on time. Better yet, be early. It is better you sit and wait then miss a court appointed time. (Bring something to read.)
5. Have all your paperwork with you. Have at least one extra copy of everything, just in case the judge, lawyer, advocate, etc needs a copy. Have your papers in order, in a folder, not shoved haphazardly into your bag or pockets.
6. Be respectful, not just to the judge, but to everyone, whether they are the police/court officers at the courthouse, lawyers, or other people waiting for their case to be called. A court house, whether its Family, Criminal Court or Supreme Court is often a place of tension, emotion, and a place of outcomes. If you are angry and frustrated, kicking benches and punching doorways, swearing and talking loudly on your phone you are annoying at best, intimating at worst. Imagine a battered woman coming in to file an Order of Protection against her abusive husband; she’s nervous and upset, and there you are yelling into a cell, stalking around the room. etc. Imagine how she feels. Yes, you may be upset, but you must contain yourself and behave yourself while in the courthouse.
7. It is your Constitutional right to have a lawyer. If you cannot afford a lawyer, tell the judge and she will give you an 18B attorney, which is a court appointed attorney. If you do not meet financial limits required for an 18B attorney, you may ask the judge if she has an advocate resource, which is an organization, (the types differ from state to state and city to city), that can help you find affordable law representation.
8. When addressing the judge use the terms, “Your Honor” or the judge’s last name. I.e. Judge Doe. If you need to interject something, say, “Excuse me, Your Honor, if I may…” and wait for their answer. If they indicate you may speak, do so. If they tell you not to, do not argue.
8. Lastly, listen to the judge. Court proceeding can go quickly, so pay attention. If your emotions are distracting you, bring a friend to sit in the back, observe, and even take notes. If the judge asks who they are, say a friend, who is there only to observe. It is also your right to bring someone in with you, other than your lawyer, be it a friend, pastor, or family member. Speak clearly, and slowly. Answer the question the judge asks you. As long as you are truthful the judge will see that.