In family law cases, it seems to happen fairly often that, in litigated cases, you come before the same judge several times. Most courts, of course, do this on purpose – in order to minimize the amount of time needed at each hearing that the judge needs to familiarize himself with the facts of the case. It’s efficient, it’s consistent – and, really, it makes sense, especially if you think about the need to conserve judicial resources (like, the judge’s time, specifically).
Sometimes, you’ll get a substitute judge, depending on where your case is pending, and occasionally, a judge will retire or things will change and you’ll end up with a new judge part of the way through a case. That’s not normally the case, though, and in most jurisdictions you’ll stay with one judge consistently all the way through your case.
But what if my family law judge hates me?
If you’ve made an unfavorable impression in front of your judge before (or you’re worried that you have), you can still correct it.
It’s important to behave and dress appropriately in court, and to speak respectfully to everyone who works there – including, but not limited to, clerks, bailiffs, attorneys, secretaries, and so on. You shouldn’t be writing furious notes, eyerolling, or having uncontrolled verbal outbursts in the judge’s courtroom. Judges are largely unemotional, and usually don’t understand emotionality from the people sitting in front of them. It’s best if you’re calm, cool, and collected too.
If you’ve already made a bad impression, these points are doubly important now. You’ll have to make up for your bad first impression, and show the judge that you’re not what he thinks you are. Unless you’ve done something terrible in front of him, chances are good that you’ll be able to repair his impression of you. Judges don’t want to hold grudges; in fact, if you don’t display the same behavior again, it’s likely that he will forget what you did in front of him before.
Besides, it’s entirely possible that the judge DOES NOT hate you. In many cases, I’ve seen judges appear either indifferent or equally harsh to both sides, regardless of how the judge ultimately decided to rule. He isn’t going to want to show you preferential treatment. In fact, if indeed there IS preferential treatment, I think it’s more likely that the judge would show it to the side he ultimately intends to rule against.
Is that counterintuitive? Let me explain. A judge doesn’t want to get overturned on appeal. In order to reduce the possibility of this happening, the judge is going to let the losing party get it all out. He’ll let him talk and talk and talk (sometimes, even when he doesn’t let YOU talk). Psychologically, you can see the benefit this would provide. The losing party thinks, “He’s really listening to me!” Then, when the judge rules against him, at least he can’t say that the judge just “didn’t get it,” or didn’t let him put his case on, or missed the point on this one particular issue. Judges have more success (and less appeals of their decisions!) when they let the losing party have a chance to tell their story. And that might mean that it feels like the judge doesn’t let you (or your attorney) have the spotlight nearly as long.
It may feel, too, that he allows the other party to abuse you or the system. A lot of insults get flung back and forth across a courtroom in family law cases; just because he gets the most insults out doesn’t mean he’s winning (or that your attorney isn’t standing up for you).
A lot of being a successful trial attorney means reading the judge – and that means telling when a judge needs to hear certain things, or needs you to just keep quiet. It’s an important strategic decision.
When I first started, Charlie Hofheimer, the founder of our firm, trained me. Even though it was a pretty long time ago now, and Charlie is pretty much entirely retired (I still miss him!), he taught me a lot of important lessons. One of them was that it is very, very easy to “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory”. What he means by that is that, sometimes, when you’ve won, you can turn the tide against yourself by adding one more detail, asking one more question, or letting slip just one more fact. When your attorney is in court, he or she is reading the judge and carefully constructing an argument. Sometimes, it’s not necessary to respond to comments from the other side, which may or may not have been added in specifically to bait you into exhibiting unattractive behaviors in front of the judge. Be calm, cool, and collected, and you’ll be more successful in the long run.
Will my judge even remember me?
It’s frustrating, but it sometimes happens that a court date is really far away from your last one. In custody cases, it’s not uncommon to get a trial date that’s six months after your initial appearance. Custody cases, too, can come back year after year, as a losing parent files petitions for modifications. In a divorce, it can sometimes take several years, especially in the most contentious cases.
You can find yourself in front of a judge many times. Or just a few. It all depends on you, your husband, and how contentious your case is. So, how much does the judge remember?
The truth? It depends. I was at a continuing education seminar the other day, run by a panel of judges, and it was funny how many differences there were between them. Some say they write good enough notes that they could practically be court reporters; others say that they don’t write notes at all (because they don’t want the circuit court judge reviewing them).
Does that mean they don’t remember? Maybe. Or, at least, their memory of some parts of your case might be foggy. All of that to say that, if you’re worried you made a bad impression, you should definitely work towards correcting it. Your attorney can give you pointers, too, if you’re wondering where to start.
Judges aren’t infallible, of course. They’re human, too, and they can forget things. Best to err on the side of caution, though, and assume that your judge will remember every little detail!
For more information, or to schedule a consultation with one of our licensed and trial tested attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.