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How should I conduct myself in the courtroom?

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At the Law Office of Lisa A. Vance, we're mindful of how unfamiliar many of our clients are with courtrooms. Indeed, for a great number of our family law clients, divorce court is the first time in their lives they've ever been inside a courtroom. A lot of what they assume to be true about court comes from TV and movies - which doesn't give the full, accurate picture of what it's like.

The Honorable Rosie Alvarado, Judge of the 438th Civil District Court in Bexar County, has written a helpful list of dos and don'ts we share with our clients who are new to courtroom proceedings.

Courtrooms are formal places with a number of rules of decorum. They're places in which important decisions are made, dedicated to ideals of justice and fairness that are central to our society, and the rules of court are designed to underscore those. While courtrooms are not necessarily meant to be imposing or foreboding, they can be if they're not fully understood - which may be why Judge Alvarado has created her list.

Let's start with her list of ten things to do in the courtroom.

You shall:

1. Be respectful to court staff, as they are extensions of the Judge.

2. Wear proper attire while in Court.

3. Be prompt and attend all sessions.

4. Turn off cell phones and pagers before entering the courtroom.

5. Be quiet at all times.

6. Immediately rise and remain standing when talking to the Judge.

7. Speak clearly and loudly enough to be heard when presenting your case.

8. Stay attentive and calm.

9. Call the Judge "Your Honor."

10. The [Court you're in] is a Court of record. Please fill out the appropriate request form.

This list is primarily reflective of an important element of courtroom proceedings - the judge is wanting to - in a clear and orderly way - get the information necessary to rule on the case. While calling a judge "Your Honor" is a simple sign of respect, as is dressing appropriately, many of the rules center around making sure the judge can hear one person at a time, moving through the facts of the case and determining what's relevant to a decision.

She also, of course, has a list of don'ts.

You shall not:

1. Bring children to court unless they have been subpoenaed.

2. Chew gum

3. Bring food into the courtroom without permission.

4. Read newspapers, magazines, or books while court is in session.

5. Go in and out of the courtroom while waiting for your case to start.

6. Approach the bench except with the Judge's permission or request.

7. Interrupt the Judge, attorneys, or any other party in the courtroom.

8. Speak, even in a whisper, with friends or other members while court is in session.

Like the do list, this list is concerned with decorum in service of justice - specifically, to not create distractions impeding the judge's ability to focus on the case at hand. It also shows just how important respect for the judge and the judicial process is in the courtroom, as some of the rules are centered around those concerns.

Her list concludes with some teeth - "violations of these rules may result in sanctions or other punishment by the Court" - meant to dissuade people from breaking them. But even if there aren't punishments involved, they're important rules in keeping the court a place that is dignified and, even to a certain degree, sacred.

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