The last thing you want to do when you find yourself before a judge is make life more difficult for yourself by saying something rude or stupid. Even worse, lawyers are frequently before judges because it is their job, and they have a million opportunities to irritate these arbiters of justice.
Here are some things you should try to never say, and some actual examples of questions and responses you one hundred percent want to avoid repeating!
20. “Your Honour, have you read the material?”
Woe betide the attorney who embarrasses the judge in front of the court. That same judge is likely to tell you exactly in which orifice you can file your material.
19. “I intend to represent myself.”
Your judge knows that those who represent themselves have fools for clients. Your judge now thinks you are a fool, and is not looking forward to your amateur open mic night in her court.
18. Any and all swear words.
Yes, we’ve all heard it everywhere; nobody is immune. There is still a certain decorum in court. Do you want to be found in contempt? Because this is how you get found in contempt.
17. “Nobody told me!”
The judge knows that the clerk, officer, and/or your attorney did in fact tell you when to show up and what to bring. You are not a child. Be on time with your stuff.
16. “It might be hard for you to see this…”
Lawyer, please. Did you actually make a hand out or use a font the judge can’t view from the bench? Did you think you came here to play Pictionary? Bring items that can be easily read, period.
15. “You know/like/the thing of it is” etc.
Your verbal tic may not annoy the people who love you and have gotten used to it. For the judge, your attorney/client, the jury, and the court reporter, you are now perceived as the spawn of Satan and a broken record. Try incredibly hard to not be a verbal speed bump. You don’t want the judge to envision your head exploding each time you repeat yourself.
Now that we’ve learned the basics, let’s look at statements from actual court transcripts to further illustrate what NOT to do.
14. “The People have evidence that the life of the witness is in jeopardy, and it is reasonable to apprehend he will not be able to attend the trial if he is not alive at that time.”
This is an actual thing a prosecutor once said. In front of a judge. On record.
13. “Were you present when that picture was taken?”
They let anybody into law school these days!
12. “All my autopsies are performed on dead people.”
It’s unclear from the transcript if the coroner was being facetious or not.
11. “Upon my life, if your lordship come to that, I am every bit as well dressed as your lordship….Why, you come here in your working clothes and I come in mine.”
Yes, but he’s wearing a robe, and you are covered in brick-layer’s dust, sir.
10. “In this case, I have absolutely no case law to back up my position. I find myself in the predicament of the blind man in the nudist colony – I’ll just have to feel my way along.”
So…that really counts as two things not to say in front of a judge.
9. “I don’t steal chickens before witnesses.”
Said the defendant. Oops.
8. “I’m deaf, your honor; so deaf I really don’t believe I could possibly hear more than one side of the case.”
Well, that’s a novel excuse to get out of jury duty!
7. “And these stairs, did they also go up?”
Smart enough for law school, not smart enough for an interior design certificate.
6. “Yes, Kirk to Enterprise- Beam me up.”
Said the defendant after the judge asked if he would like to say anything before sentencing.
5. “The youngest son, the 20-year-old, how old is he?”
Maybe the lawyer was using dog years.
4. “When he went, had you gone and had she, if she wanted to and were able, for the time being excluding all the restraints on her not to go, gone also, would he have brought you, meaning you and she, with him to the station?”
3. “Did he kill you?”
Oh, well then, by all means, rest your case, counsel!
2. “I am not a thermometer, so I can’t tell you the speed limit.”
The witness probably thought that sounded really clever, too.
1. “I’ll kill your family.”
Defendant Denver Allen, when the judge denied his request for a new public defender. Basically never say anything Allen said to the judge to anyone.