Of Counsel

Legal Notes on Georgia and The South

If Only

Posted by Maggie on January 18, 2008

When there’s some kind of trouble with court, as an attorney or a party you are usually stuck with it. Recently I had a court date with a lower court in a small county where the only courtroom was being used by a trial. We were all stuck sitting around in hallways and were called into chambers one by one. It wasn’t pleasant, especially since they didn’t have my name on the list to call even though my client was on their calendar. Due to the difficulties none of us realized this for quite some time and I was stuck waiting for hours on something that should have taken a very short time.

In my experience, Judges and clerks of court are not that concerned with “customer service.” Many lower courts that deal with traffic cases are horrendous, with extremely long waits and no care about whether you’re missing work. So I was happy to see this story of a Judge in Alabama who dismissed 220 tickets because of a scheduling problem in court. As the presiding Judge, it was his responsibility to make sure he had an appropriate courtroom for the size of his calendar. When there was no room large enough in the courthouse, instead of just putting it off and making everyone get off work again, he dismissed every non-DUI ticket and took full responsibility. I think the newspaper story on him is supposed to make us angry, but I think it’s a wonderful change of pace from what normally goes on.

Most courts have little regard for your time and consider your attendance there paramount to anything else you may have going on in your life, no matter how minor the offense. These traffic courts are often difficult to get by phone so you don’t know what to expect when you appear. Staff also tends to be rather nasty. (The other day I sat through a calendar for a client where the clerk called everyone by name and required you to give your plea–within a few minutes of sitting down–upon being called. If you said, “What?” or “here” it got ugly. All this before the Judge took the bench to explain how the process would go from there.)

When a Judge has jury trials, there is nothing they care about more than their “citizens” who are there for jury duty. As a lawyer, if you do something to delay the calendar or have your client plea after you pick a jury, you can make an enemy from a Judge for wasting the time of their jurors. People with traffic tickets are citizens, too, but rarely get any care or consideration from Judges. I wish more Judges could take the lead of this one.

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