6 posts categorized "Courtroom Etiquette"

August 26, 2013

Woman argues with judge and ends up with 300 days in jail

Bottom line: Don't argue with the judge.  This woman turned an arraignment into a 300 day jail sentence.


ELYRIA -- Ebony Burks earned the dubious distinction earlier this month of drawing the longest jail sentence that Elyria Municipal Court Judge Gary Bennett has ever handed down for contempt of court.

Burks' 300-day stay in the Lorain County Jail came out of an Aug. 14 hearing during which she was being arraigned on domestic violence and assault charges in separate cases.

March 28, 2013

Angry Judge William Watkins Suspended for Four Years Without Pay

Folks, I don't usually reprint other articles on my blog.  However, this one along with the inciting video is worth the read and watch! 

Bottom Line: Judges, as well as attorneys and litigants, need to be held responsible for their actions.


From the ABA Journal:

An admittedly intemperate family court judge has been suspended without pay for the remaining years of his term by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

In one angry rant from the bench that has been viewed on YouTube more than 200,000 times, Putnam County Circuit Court Family Law Judge William M. Watkins III repeatedly told a pastor appearing before him to "shut up." And this was far from the only time he spoke to parties using inappropriate language, according to the opinion (PDF) filed Tuesday by the supreme court.

In one hearing, the opinion says, when speaking to a woman who was seeking an order of protection against her then-husband in a domestic violence case, Watkins blamed the woman for "shooting off your fat mouth about what happened," told her to "Shut up!" and then continued:

"Shut up! You stupid woman. Can’t even act properly. One more word out of you that you aren’t asked a question you’re out of here, and you will be found in direct contempt of court and I will fine you appropriately. So, shut your mouth.You know I hate it when people are just acting out of sheer spite and stupidity."

Click here to read the entire article


August 10, 2011

Tweeting During Trial Could Land You In Jail!

12 angry men Well, it's official.  If you're doing your civic duty as a juror in California and you Tweet (or Facebook or e-mail or... name your technology) about the trial, you will officially be in criminal contempt of court.  What does that mean to you?  It could mean six months in the klink! 

    No tweeting Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation on Friday (Assembly Bill 141, authored by Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, D-Los Angeles) which requires trial judges to tell jurors that existing bans on conducting their own research about the case, or talking to outsiders about it, applies to electronic and wireless communication. Violations by jury members will be punishable by up to six months in jail for criminal contempt.

No facebook     Having just served as a juror last week on a criminal matter and as an attorney trying a civil matter just a couple of months ago in Santa Monica, I can attest to the fact that judges take the use (or misuse) of technology very seriously.  They admonish the jurors not to discuss the case with anyone including their significant others or the jury when not in actual deliberations.  They further stress, and I mean STRESS, the rules forbidding the use of electronic devices to Tweet, text, Facebook, e-mail or in any other way, shape or form any information, thoughts, questions or other communication about the case.  Jurors are not to use electronic devices to research the case or any facts about the case.

    As a lawyer, I actually think that these are good rules.  Verdicts are to be based upon the evidence admitted during the trial.  Verdicts are not to be based on a jurors' independent research.  I believe that the integrity of the judicial system must be preserved.  Read California Criminal Jury Instructions 101-102.

    You may also be interested to read what others are saying about this new law.  Most think that it's just one more useless law designed to quash the First Amendment and ultimately create more crowding in our already overcrowded jails.  Here are links to other articles and comments about this bill:

California Jurors Tempted By Technology Could Face Jail Time (Article) (Wall Street Journal Blog)

California Jurors Tempted By Technology Could Face Jail Time (Comments) (Wall Street Journal Blog)

Jurors To Be Told Not to Tweet Under New Law (SF Chronicle)

California Governor Sends Message to Jurors: No Tweeting (Law Technology News)

What do you think?

June 14, 2010

Witness Blindness: Memories & Perceptions Not Always Reliable

    You may be interested in an article that I came across in A Public Defender, a fascinating blawg.  This particular article, Change Blindness and the Fallacy of the All-Remembering Cop, illustrates how faulty a witness's memory might be.  This phenomenon is known as Inattentional Blindness.  Watch the short but very eye-opening videos below.  The first one illustrates how an eye-witness can easily misidentify an alleged defendant.  This, of course, would also apply to eye-witnesses in civil cases misidentifying or not accurately recalling people, places and things involved in an auto accident, slip and fall case, etc.  Watch The Door Study by Daniel Simmons

In A Public Defender's article, he goes on to discuss the case of Jerry Bordeaux and Roger Christianson. 

Take the sad case of Jerry Bordeaux and Roger Christianson. Bordeaux, fighting a traffic ticket, hired Christianson to represent him. Months later, when the matter was called to trial, Christianson answered for Bordeaux and started questioning the officer:

When the case started, the sole witness was Officer Coronado, who had ticketed Bordreaux. While Officer Coronado was on the stand, Mr. Christianson asked him:

“And what was I wearing?”
“Had I cut off my beard that day?”
“Was I wearing a beard that day?”
“I am the driver?”

After Officer Coronado identified Mr. Christianson as the person he had ticketed that day, Mr. Christianson revealed that he was actually the lawyer! What a brilliant ploy — if Officer Coronado couldn’t even remember which person he had ticketed, how could he be certain of what Mr. Bordreaux had done. By switching places with his client, Mr. Christianson impeached the reliability of Officer Coronado’s memory.

Finally, the following video, The Monkey Business Illusion by Daniel J. Simmons, confirms that we cannot always rely on eye-witness testimony.  This is not to say that an eye-witness has an agenda or that he/she is evil, lying, etc., but simply that we all have the ability to misperceive and rely on our misperception or that we have faulty memories because we are human.  Therefore, an attorney "beating up" an eye-witness's testimony is often times appropriate when zealously advocating for his/her client.  In fact, it is the ethical thing to do! (Note: It can be done with finesse, without humiliating the witness and allowing them to retain their dignity).

Questions? Concerns? 

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April 02, 2008

Old Lawyers Fight at Deposition: Video

Here's what not to do at a deposition!!!  I've been to some pretty contentious depositions but this is a doozy.  Get your popcorn and enjoy the ride. Although this is fun to watch, I don't recommend this type of behavior at a deposition or any legal proceeding -- it does not foster good will and certainly impedes progress in one's case.


The Law Office of Lowell Steiger Represents Injured Victims

If you have suffered a Personal Injury, Call for a Free Consultation

Contact Attorney Lowell Steiger at (323) 852-1100

or via e-mail at [email protected]

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November 28, 2007

Cell Phones in the Courtroom: A Big No-No

I spend a good deal of time in the courtroom.  The signs almost unanimously read "No Food, No Gum Chewing, Turn Off All Cell Phones and Pagers."  Most courtrooms have very heavy calendars comprised of a variety of different cases with a plethora of varied issues.  In order to facilitate the meting out of justice, a judge must have the ability to focus on each individual matter as though it were the only matter before him.  Although in an exalted position, a judge is only human sometimes reacts in a manner which is, well, human.

Shubb_cell_phone This issue became of interest to me when I read an article on newsreview.com entitled "Short Fuse."  In this particular case (back in 2006), U.S. District Court Judge William Shubb flung a cell phone belonging to a 68 year old woman into the hallway after it rang and rang and rang in her purse.  The lady couldn't find it in time to shut it off and the judge became irate.  Read the article, it's a doozie.

I started digging around the web and found some more goodies in the courtroom-cell phone genre. A November 27, 2007 New York Times article entitled A Judge's 'Inexplicable Madness' Over A Cellphone by Danny Hakim  relates how Judge Robert M. Restaino arrested everyone in his courtroom because one person's cell phone went off.   His behavior was deemed so outrageous by the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct that he was removed from the bench!  From The Legal Reader:

"In causing 46 individuals to be deprived of their liberty out of pique and frustration, respondent abandoned his role as a reasonable, fair jurist and instead became a petty tyrant, abusing his judicial power and placing himself above the law he was shown to administer," the commission concluded.

Although the judge's behavior constituted an isolated incident, his conduct brought the judiciary into "disrepute" and irreparably damaged public confidence in his ability to remain a judge, the commission held. 

Read the Commission's decision

In doing even more digging, I found many articles on proper courtroom behavior.  Almost all include a blurb on the non-use of a cell phone in the courtroom.  The People's Media Company published A Guide to Proper Courtroom Behavior which elaborates on appropriate attire, no gum/candy, punctuality, preparedness and, of course, cell phone etiquette. 

Turn off your cell phone. Turn off your cell phone. You know what? Turn off your cell phone. When a judge hears that phone ring, or sing a song, anything you have to say after that moment will fall on deaf ears. The judge turns off her phone before coming into court, because she is going to focus on what she is doing. You should return the courtesy. If you absolutely must have your phone on for extenuating circumstances, put it on vibrate.

The most interesting, or at least fun, cell phone in the courtroom situation comes from an article published on October 3, 2007 in Metro.co.uk Courtroom Interrupted by "Orgasmic" Ringtone where a man's cell phone had a very unique ringtone.  Read all about it here.

Bottom line, turn off your cell phone if you're going into the courtroom!!!

The Law Office of Lowell Steiger Represents Injured Victims

If you have suffered a Personal Injury, Call for a Free Consultation

Contact Attorney Lowell Steiger at (323) 852-1100

or via e-mail at [email protected]

"Treated With the Respect That You Deserve"


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