This isn’t going to be the type of post that offers unqualified legal advice. The standard disclaimers all apply to find a suitable lawyer to provide you any legal advice that you need.
What I am writing about here is the “common sense” things that I see people doing wrong. I will present one of my own experiences as a case study.
Today, I had to go to court for a speeding ticket .
When I arrived at the municipal court building, I exchanged pleasantries with the security staff and immediately checked the docket to make sure that I had the correct court date and courtroom. The last thing that I wanted to do was to be sitting in the wrong courtroom at the right time, or in the right courtroom at the wrong time.
After confirming where I needed to go, I went up the escalators. Before entering the courtroom, I put my cell phone on vibrate. I have never seen anything upset a judge faster than a cell phone ringing during court, and I knew I didn’t want the judge’s anger to be focused at me.
Despite the fact that I was there by myself, I walked in full of confidence. At worst, I knew that I could be forced to pay a fine plus court costs, but even then, it would be a learning experience for me. At best, I may find a way to win. If all else failed, I was fully prepared to ask the judge for a continuance.
I looked around the room at who all was present, and noticed most all of the other defendants wearing tshirts and jeans, lawyers in their tailored suits, and two uniformed police officers. I knew that my collared shirt, freshly pressed slacks, and black Aldo loafers would help put the judge at ease when it was my turn to approach the bench.
I can understand that some people might feel that in court a person should not be judged by their appearance. Unfortunately, in the world that we live in, most everything is judged by it’s appearance. Despite us all being taught throughout childhood that we are not to judge books by their cover, as adults we must recognize that is how most people will judge us. To most people, perception is everything.
In sales, we are taught to mirror our clients as much as possible to put them at ease. By mirroring, I mean that we are to imitate body language, slang, facial expressions, style of dress, and anything else that we can; because it is in a person’s nature to like people who are just like themselves. People do business with people that they like.
In court, I would not dare show up wearing a judge’s robe, but my strategy would be to dress like someone that the judge considers his peers – which happen to be the lawyers in attendance. Why give myself an immediate disadvantage by dressing exactly like the people who the judge has been ruling against the entire day before I even arrived? The way I see it, if I am going to lose, let it be after I have explained my side, instead of the judge having his mind made up before one word has come out of my mouth.
Prior to my name being called, I focused on the two police officers to see if either of them looked familiar, but they didn’t. One of the officers sat next to the prosecutor the entire time, while the other officer walked around the room to ask all the people if they were there for a “no insurance” ticket. Suprisingly, most of the people were there for the same thing – no insurance, but fortunately I wasn’t one of those people.
Despite how being a judge is glamorized on the legal shows on television, I am sure that hearing what must seem like the exact same cases over and over again, hundreds of times every week of a person’s career would surely feel like torture after a while, and would eventually turn even the most vibrant of personalities into a cynic. I felt particularly fortunate that my speeding ticket stood a great chance of breaking what was sure to be the agonizing monotony of a courtroom full of defendants determined to make the judge fall asleep.
To be a judge is to be a fighter, a person that has typically been blessed with a much higher form of intellect than the average person, and it has recently become apparent to me that they also much have a much higher tolerance for dealing with the cruel-and-unusually punishing environment known as a courtroom.
When the officer came to ask me if I was also there for a “no insurance” ticket, I replied, which gave me an opportunity to get a good look at the name on his badge. I compared the name to the officer’s name on my ticket and was relieved to see that the names didn’t match. At one point, I was able to catch a glimpse of the other officer’s badge and saw that his name also didn’t match the name on my ticket.
My Turn To Approach The Bench
Eventually, the judge called my name to approach the bench, and the following conversation happened:
Me: “Good afternoon, your honor”
Judge: “State your name”
Me: “My name is Nigel Johnson”
Judge: “So, what did you want to do?”
Me: “Well, I’m not sure, what are my options?”
Judge: “Well, you can pay a fine, pay a smaller fine, or pay a larger fine.”
Me: “Oh, I was thinking that I would be having a trial today?”
Judge: “Well, you can have a trial, but it won’t be today.”
Me: (Me reaching for the paper and pad, subconsciously showing my willingness to comply with any directions received from the judge – such as any wishes about me needing to come back another day) “So when did you want me to come back, your honor?”
Judge: “Hmmm, so let me see, all you have is this one speeding ticket?”
Me: (Me putting down the paper and pad, subconsciously showing my support in whatever the alternative is he was considering) “Yes sir, that is all that I have.”
Judge: (To the Prosecutor) “Have you heard any excuse why Officer X___ isn’t here today?” (The officer who wrote my ticket)
Prosecutor: “No, your honor, we haven’t heard from him.”
Judge: (To me) “CASE DISMISSED!”
Judge: (To Me) “Your free to go”
Me: “Thank you, your honor!”
I had been through the same situation a few times previously, where the officer didn’t appear in court, but in each of the other times, the judge automatically rescheduled the court date. For some reason this time was different.
- Try not to end up in court in the first place
- Dress professionally, so that the judge doesn’t think you look guilty
- Show the judge that you respect his or her authority
- Arrive on time and pay attention to the other people in the courtroom
- Use courtesy and manners with everyone that you come across
Never forget, that judges are people too. Treat people fairly and with respect and they will return the favor. As for me, I’m looking forwarded to celebrating this victory over some adult beverages, but since I will not be driving, I don’t expect any more speeding (or other) tickets in the future.
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