The law, like every other profession, has its share of bad apples whether they’re attorneys or judges. Unfortunately, you can’t really fire the judge hearing your case as you can your lawyer or doctor. Judges are human and if they had a fight with their spouse before coming to work, guess who they take it out on? You. If your judge hates his or her job, guess who he or she will take it out on? You. If your judge is clueless on the law, guess who pays the price? You. Is it fair? Of course not. However, it happens and here are some suggestions on how to cope.
First, you can usually tell a judge’s mood when he or she enters the court room. If they’re smiling, you’re in luck. If they look like they just sucked on a lemon you may be in trouble. Regardless, always address him or her as “Sir”, “Ma’am” or “Your Honor” in the nicest, most respectful manner you can muster. One sure way to further upset an already upset judge is to appear to be disrespectful. I’ve seen many a party who give surly responses and the judge drop a hammer on them like Thor. Even if you think his or her ruling is the biggest load of garbage outside a landfill, be polite.
Second, come to court dressed appropriately. I tell my clients to dress like they’re going to church. Do not wear tank tops, ratty jeans, revealing tops or dresses (ladies) or your “Kill Them All and Let God Sort Them Out” t-shirt. Wearing such items will make the judge think you’re disrespecting them and they will either toss you out or make a snide comment. Believe it or not, the judge may rule against you because he or she doesn’t like the way you look. Why do you think criminal defendants come to trial in suits?
Probably the best way to deal with a clueless judge is to be prepared. Many judges really don’t know the law especially if they’re new on the bench. If you research the law regarding your case and present it to the judge, he or she will most likely review it. If you don’t, they’ll rule based on whatever they think the law is even if they’re wrong. You don’t have to be a legal expert to understand the law in your case. Most state and federal statutes are available online with explanatory notes. You don’t have to prose on and on about it either. Just keep it simple and to the point.
So what happens if you have a truly bad judge? By that, I mean someone who disregards the law because they view their courtroom as a fiefdom? For example, I was involved in a paternity action in a small Oklahoma town. I represented Mom. The judge said that he had two lawyers from the big city who probably didn’t know how things worked in his courtroom. He then proceeded to ask my client about her religious practices and threatened to call the pastor to see if she really went to church. Can you say “unconstitutional?” However, he was God in that courtroom and I remained silent as to not prejudice him even further. In cases like that, if the judge rules in a clearly unlawful manner, it’s best to appeal his or her ruling. That may be costly and time consuming but you will never win an argument with a judge like that. For them, the law is secondary to their own beliefs and biases. As for my client, they shared custody so there was no harm done by that judge.
In conclusion, being prepared and respectful will go a long way in helping you cope with a difficult judge.