What I Have Learned From Judges

Robert Hambrick Photo 1Maybe you’d think a Clearwater Criminal Defense Lawyer would be too busy arguing with Pinellas Prosecutors to learn a few things from the presiding Judges. But the best Judges in the Middle District of Florida in Tampa and at the Criminal Complex in Pinellas, Florida are also the best teachers, helping every lawyer who practices in front of them to be better prepared, better advocates in the future by demanding the very best. These are important things to know not only for defense lawyers but for their clients too.

What are judges trying to do? A good judge wants to make certain that in his courtroom justice prevails. To find justice the best criminal judges strive to do the following things:

  1. To make the correct legal decisions without simply following the prosecutor nor defense counsel.
  2. To do what is required under the law while still maintaining the Defendant’s rights.
  3. To find appropriate, fair and reasonable resolution of criminal cases.
  4. To listen to every argument.
  5. To be fair and consistent with similarly placed Defendants.
  6. To maintain an atmoshere of fairness in the Criminal Courtroom at all times.
  7. To not unduly embarrass nor denigrate anyone in the courtroom.
  8. To be intellectually honest rather than letting emotion rule.
  9. To be impartial.
  10.  To not prejudge guilt or innocence.

Over the years I’ve been practicing law I’ve learned many things from some great Judges and quite a few things from some Judges who must have been having a bad day. Evey Criminal Defense Lawyer knows of instances where even the best Judge lets the Courtroom get out of control and what is lost is the sense of fairness and a notion of probity. Recently in a Federal Trial I was impressed by the demeanor of the Judge who clearly was doing everything that he could to make certain that the Jury would give my client a fair trial. The Judge cared about due process. It was evident that the Judge cared about my client’s rights whatever the jury verdict might be.

And ultimately, that is what makes for the best Judge and possibly the best defense lawyer, someone who understands that the goal of criminal court is not to simply punish. The process of criminal law must comply with the highest standards of due process giving every American the vital rights that seperates our democracy from authoritarian states by making sure the proceedings are fair, just and reasonable.

For over thirty years I’ve had the honor of arguing criminal cases before from some of the best Judges in Tampa Bay, Florida; here are some of the things I’ve learned from them.

  1. While in the Courtroom always display a strong character, complete competence and absolute commitment.
  2. The best way to establish your character quickly is to show your confidence by being courteous to opposing counsel, the Judge’s staff, the bailiffs, the court reporter and everyone in the Courtroom.
  3. Be reasonable, personable and likeable, not just to the Judge, but to everyone.
  4. Respect the Judge.
  5. Respect the Judge’s Courtroom.
  6. Show respect by never disrupting the Courtroom.
  7. Turn off the Cell Phone, stop conversations and be quiet.
  8. Never distract the Judge.
  9. Show repect by standing when the Judge enters or when speaking to the Court.
  10. Show respect by looking your best. If you look great you’re likely to sound better.Enter a Courtroom looking like you are going to the most important business function of your life, because it is. As Mark Twain noted, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” or for Courtroom attire, “Dressing well is a kind of good manners. When you’re standing in a room, your effect is the same as a painting’s effect, or a sculpture’s. You’re part of someone’s view, you’re part of that world, and so you should dress well. I find it’s a show of respect to try to put on your best face and look as good as you can.” – Tom Ford
  11. Show respect by not cluttering the Courtroom needlessly and by keeping things in as good order as possible.
  12. Go to the courtroom before a Trial or hearing so that you can envision what success in the Courtroom will look like. If it is a trial then you’ll want to establish where the lines of sight from the witness box, the jury box, the bench, the podium and counsel tables. If there are problems let the Judge know before the trial and before the potential jurors even enter the Courtroom. If there are special high tech viewers learn how to use them before the trial so that you’re not fumbling with the mechanics during the trial.
  13. Always be on time. Never be late for a Court Hearing it’s asking for trouble. I’ve seen attorneys dragged into Federal court for being late for a status check. It shows disrepect to the Judge to be even one minute late. Is it too much to ask to be fifteen minutes early? If some unforseen circumstance will make you late for a hearing or trial call the Court immediately and explain the circumstances to the Judge’s Judgicial Assistant, then call your favorite Criminal Defense Attorney in Clearwater because your going to need help.
  14. Never waste the Court’s time, nor the Jury’s time, nor your time.When making arguments, never grandstand, nor play to the audience. Never repeat an argument. Make the point and move on.
  15. And here’s some sage advice from Pinellas County Judge Pat Caddel who recently died after battling cancer, IF YOU’RE WINNING – SHUT UP AND SIT DOWN!