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Focus on the Law: Surviving your day in court

By Sharon Frankenberg,
Attorney at Law

Whether you are suing someone, being sued or are just a witness in a case, going to court can be a stressful experience.  There are many things you can do to be better prepared and reduce your chance of having unpleasant surprises on your court date.  First of all, verify exactly where you need to be.  There are several different buildings where court is held and not all of them include the word “courthouse.”

Check the street address very carefully and then identify the courtroom you are looking for.  It is a good idea to visit the courtroom prior to your actual court date so that you can become familiar with where it is.  Locate several parking options near the building as well.  Parking lots may be very full close to the time of your hearing and you do not want to be late.

When getting ready for your hearing, gather any documents you want to present to the court as proof in your case.  Receipts, letters, bills and photographs are typical kinds of documents used in court.  Make sure that your documents are organized and actually help prove your position.  Having extra legible copies is very helpful as well.  Anything you can do to make things go more smoothly is always good in court.

On the day of court, be sure to dress appropriately to show respect for the court.  Some courts have a dress code that prohibits wearing shorts, tank tops or flip flops.  Obviously it is a bad idea to wear shirts with offensive remarks.  Hats and non-prescription dark glasses should be removed inside the courtroom.  Also food and drinks should not be brought into the courtroom.

Most court buildings have metal detectors at their entrances.  Do not bring pocketknives, steak knives, screwdrivers, fireworks, anything dangerous or anything that could be used as a weapon.  These kinds of items may be confiscated.  Do not ever bring children to court with you unless specifically ordered to do so by the court.  Do not bring illegal drugs with you unless you want to be arrested on the spot.  The federal courthouse does not permit the public to bring cellular phones or any kind of recording devices inside the courthouse so you should leave those in your vehicle.  Some other courthouses permit cellular phones inside but under no circumstances should you leave your phone on.  Phones may be seized by the court officer if they go off and disrupt court proceedings.

You should always stand when the judge enters or exits the courtroom.  If the judge speaks to you, you should stand up and speak up.  Remain standing as long as the judge is speaking to you. You should always address the court as “Your Honor” whether the judge is male or female.  You should be polite and calm in court.  You want your case to be judged upon your proof and your facts not upon your rude behavior.

Finally, double check your hearing date and time.  The easiest way to lose a case is to fail to appear.  If you brought the lawsuit and you fail to appear, the judge may dismiss your case for that very reason.  If you are being sued and you fail to appear, the judge may grant the other side a judgment by default against you.  If you are a witness in a case and were subpoenaed to testify and you fail to appear, the court may hold you in contempt of court.  Contempt of court can be punished by a fine or even time in jail.  You should always contact an attorney for legal advice concerning your specific situation.

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