Keep in Mind that Judges Are Only Human
So often I see attorneys lose sight of the fact judges are only human. This means one has to be mindful of what you can reasonably expect of a judge. Help a judge by:
1. Making your arguments or briefs short and succinct. Get to the point. Judge’s have limited time. Don’t cite ten cases when one is right on point. Less is more when you’re trying to win a judge over.
2. Be professional and respectful. Judges don’t want to referee a food fight. Address your remarks to the court, not opposing counsel. Avoid personal attacks on opposing counsel. Attack your opponent’s arguments, not their integrity. Such attacks grate on a judge and are rarely effective. Once you offend someone, you lose your ability to persuade them.
3. Don’t inundate a judge with more work than he has time to complete. If you have pretrial motions and exhibits the judge needs to review and rule upon, make sure they are presented sufficiently in advance of trial so the judge she can accurately rule upon them. Have the Court set reasonable deadlines for all involved. Otherwise, you are inviting errors in rulings or a sua sponte continuance of your trial.
4. Pre-mark exhibits and give the courtroom deputy an exhibit chart that identifies each exhibit by number or letter, description and has columns to show if it is marked and offered, as well as a column to show if it is admitted or excluded. Have sufficient exhibits for all jurors, court staff, the witness stand and opposing counsel. You will endear yourself to the court and it’s staff.
5. Show up early to court and always make sure you have witnesses there on time and in reserve. Judges hate to waste their time or the jury’s.
6. If you can anticipate potential issues that might arise, have a trial brief or a copy of a controlling case on hand for the judge and opposing counsel. If you are sure an issue will come up, you might want to submit your brief or authority early. Judges hate surprises.
7. Learn the judge’s courtroom procedures for jury selection, how juror strikes are handled, the proper location for questioning a witness and when and how you may approach a witness.
8. Provide a copy of your jury instructions in electronic form to the court so they can easily be edited.
9. Check with other attorneys who have tried a case with the judge and learn his preferences, weaknesses and biases.
I hope these tips are of use. Good luck in your next trial.
When is an Exhibit Sticker More Than an Exhibit Sticker?
An exhibit sticker can do much more than identify an exhibit for the record. It can actually be used as an organizational tool to aid the jury in understanding what the exhibits are being used to prove, as well as, better understand your case and how it is being put together. When I was a federal prosecutor I handled a number of “complex” fraud cases and had to come up with my own system for tracking my evidence and proof for each count of the indictment and the various overt acts of the conspiracy count.
I used my indictment as a narrative tool to help the jury follow my evidence and cross-reference which exhibit helped prove which count and corresponded with the various overt acts in my conspiracy count. My conspiracy count was organized like a short story with each event (overt act) referenced on the exhibit sticker along with any separate substantive count for other the crimes separately charged.
For example, Exhibit 44 – OA (d) – CT 15 would tell the jury that the Exhibit 44 was being used to prove overt act (d) of the conspiracy count and Count 15 of the indictment. I would also annotate my copy of the indictment’s substantive counts. At the bottoms of each count on my copy of the indictment, I would list the witnesses that authenticated the exhibits, provided forensic testimony, or other supporting evidence as well as list the corresponding overt act of the conspiracy count. This allowed the jurors and court to easily follow my proof at trial. It also permitted me to easily address any motion for a directed verdict by specifically identifying the witnesses and evidence that proved each count.
By keying the overt act to the exhibit, the jury could easily move through the proof and see that I had established each count. The jurors had no trouble following my story. I numbered the exhibits in chronological order to fall in line with my overt acts. I numbered my counts chronologically as well. The jury could take the exhibits delivered to them by the bailiff which were submitted to them in numerical order and work through the indictment with little confusion. This would lead to rapid verdicts on very complicated cases. This also built up trust between the jurors and myself. They knew I cared about them and wanted to make their job as easy and efficient as possible. This system avoided confusion in the jury room. Using this numbering system with my organizational system discussed in my earlier post entitled: “How to Stay Organized During Trial” allowed me to gain control of the courtroom and the trust of the jury and judge.
One caveat, I would make sure you explain the system both in opening and closing, and ask the jurors to pay special attention. Invariably, jurors assume someone else will be taking down notes and fail to focus on your explanation. I learned this lesson the hard way when the only note taker on the jury was removed prior to deliberations and no one else had paid close attention to my explanation. The jurors sent a note to the judge asking for me to explain the numbering system again. The judge refused to honor the jurors’ request. Eventually, they figured out the system and made short work of the case.