By Jedidiah McKeehan

We have probably all seen a tv show or a movie where a lawyer is walking down a hallway next to a judge arguing why a judge should make a ruling in their favor.

Conspicuously absent from these scenes is the attorney for the other side of the case.  Is this how it works?  You just track down the judge and just start talking about your case without the other side there?

The answer is no, this almost never happens, and this kind of one-sided presentation of the issues of a case is disfavored by the legal system.

The court instead, prefers that both sides be present when any arguments, motions or other proceedings are made to the judge.  The court system wants both sides of a case to get to present their reasons why the judge should rule in their favor prior the judge making their ruling.

When only one side gets to present their side of a case, this is called “ex-parte” communication with the court.  Ex-Parte communication is only allowed in a very few circumstances, and it is not the preferred method of handling cases.  Courts will allow ex-parte communication when there is some emergency present that requires the judge to make an immediate ruling.  The most common example of this is an order of protection.

So, for example, someone is being threatened by their spouse and they are in fear for their safety.  That person can go to the court and fill out a petition for an order of protection detailing what has occurred.  If the judge reads those facts and determines that there is a substantial and immediate risk of harm to the petitioner (the person filling out the paperwork), then he has the ability to issue an ex-parte order of protection.

The catch to an ex-parte order is that it is only good for a short period of time because it was granted before the respondent (the person who is alleged to have threatened the petitioner) even got to tell their side of the story to the judge.

Typically, when an ex-parte order of protection is signed, there must be a hearing on that order of protection within 14 days and at that full hearing, the petitioner will have to present why the order should stay in place and the respondent will get a chance to argue why the order should be dismissed.

To circle back to our original question though, it is very rare for there to be any circumstance where both sides of a case are not present to argue their side of the case.


Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.