Hard to believe but trial courts are populated with people just doing their job. They aren’t actors in a TV drama – they have actual jobs to do. Most are terrific. Some, not so much. Three people a lawyer should be friendly with are the clerk of the court, the court reporter, and the bailiff. If a lawyer is a jerk to any of them, that attorney’s life will get markedly harder. I’ve witnessed lots of lawyers who seem intent on believing that they, the lawyer are in charge. They distinctly are not.
A snide remark to the clerk is going in her ear and then, usually, to the judge. A lawyer being a jerk to the hired help will be viewed by the judge with contempt. A lawyer being a jerk to a judge is pretty dumb but I’ve witnessed it more than once.
I tried a case against a Harvard grad. He let me know he was a Harvard man about every two minutes. He also told me that he had tried 200 cases. He reminded our judge how many trials he had tried before we started. Instead of being friendly with the clerk, court reporter, and bailiff, he treated them like wallpaper. As you might guess, none of that played well for Mr. Harvard. This trial was a bench trial so the judge let him ramble but he shut him down when he had had enough. Before closing arguments started, the judge told Harvard how much time he had. Everyone in the courtroom knew he was going over his allotted time. When he exceeded his allotment the judge told him he was done, mid-sentence, and told him to sit down.
I won a substantial judgment, and Harvard didn’t understand why he lost. He filed a couple of post-trial motions but didn’t even show up in person, instead arguing for them via teleconference. He was babbling away after the judge told him that his motions were denied. The judge looked at his clerk and said “We’re adjourned” and he left the bench. Harvard spent about 30 seconds talking to an empty seat before he finally heard the clerk tell him that the judge had left the courtroom. I never saw that guy again.
Two trial circuses are wrapping up about 2,000 miles apart, both dealing with criminal defendants that I hope die in prison.
Darrell Brooks made a spectacle of the court, constantly interrupting counsel and the trial judge. He didn’t help his cause. A jury tends to take their duties seriously and particularly when someone’s accused of a crime, but when a defendant is dismissive, rude, and needlessly takes up their time, they eventually have little motivation to take the defendant seriously. Brooks had no chance of prevailing on the merits and he responded with antics. He will never face worse consequences than life in prison so his reasoning (if any) might have been he was going to enjoy his short life as an “attorney.”
In Florida, the Parkland shooting trial is also wrapping up. Nikolas Cruz will disappear into prison – sentenced to life. His lawyers distinguished themselves with amateurish and boorish behavior. In the clip below, one of the attorneys was arguing post-trial about witnesses and making no sense. The judge had had enough. Instead of simply making his record he told the court, as he pointed at the judge, that bringing up his “children” was “highly improper.” The judge said: “Your children? I didn’t even know you had children, I don’t know what you are talking about.”
Also in the clip, she reminds the defense that one of the attorneys’ flipped her off by “scratching” her cheek with her middle finger. Cruz thought it was hilarious. The attorneys for Cruz were constantly joking and laughing with Cruz while the parents of dead children were offering their impact statements.
It’s moments like when I am reminded, I have few friends who are attorneys and most attorneys I’ve met are not nearly as smart or witty as they think they are. Why do people generally hate lawyers? The defense counsel for Cruz is exhibit A.