Levity in the Courtroom
Posted by Maggie on November 9, 2007
I was in court earlier this week. It’s something I used to do nearly every day as a PD and now do on occasion (weekly or so) as a private attorney with a diverse caseload. As I sat I watched the Judge take a few pleas and had a lot of different thoughts.
He took a long time with the pleas, explaining things carefully, much better than the judges I used to appear before. I like it when judges do this. The court shouldn’t be an assembly line, especially when liberty is at stake. But as a PD I was forced to see it as an assembly line. I had to have 50-70 cases straight in my head for just a single day’s calendar and when one got held up, I would get antsy about the rest of my clients. But then last week I felt like a judge took an excessive amount of time–2 hours for 6 or so pleas–it seemed like a little much. It’s a hard balance to strike, I guess.
The thing that really struck me, though, was trying to see this all through a defendant’s eyes. Especially one that’s in for their first crime and has never been through the script before. I saw a man who had done pretty decently for himself who’d lost his job from a theft case and will probably lose any one he could get in the future now that he’s got a record. I thought how foreign this must be for this man, whereas for me, sitting through pleas made me feel at home as a lawyer. And then something happened that happens quite often with some judges. The Judge started telling stories, giving advice, going off on tangents. It started with semi-relevant information, but devolved into discussions of food and restaurants and such. I wondered if it made the man feel strange to have people recommending places for lunch and smiling at the Judge’s jokes while he was destroying his life.
Any of you ever feel that way or is it just me? How sensitive should a lawyer or a judge be in that situation? Especially if it’s your client giving a plea and the judge makes a joke you’re expected to laugh at.