This guideline is for the use of attorneys, as well as Pro se (self represented) parties, appearing in front of the Cowlitz County Judges. Because many lawyers are unfamiliar with or new to practice, these guidelines are intended to acquaint attorneys with some small issues of procedure, which may vary from county to county or from judge to judge.
STANDING WHEN THE JUDGE ENTERS THE COURTROOM. Ordinarily, Judges only expect the parties to rise at the beginning of the court day. The clerk or the bailiff will often instruct the parties to remain seated after breaks or recesses. However, if the judge thinks that having all rise may be necessary to bring a large courtroom to order, he or she will so indicate to the clerk or bailiff, so listen to the court staff.
EXPRESSING GRATITUDE OR DISSENT. Judges consider it inappropriate for any lawyer to express either gratitude or disagreement with a ruling, directive or decision except for the purpose of making legal positions clear. Judicial rulings are not intended to be favors, nor are they supposed to represent any personal considerations of the judge. Therefore, please avoid thanking the judge for a particular ruling. Also avoid expressions that indicate that any particular ruling is inappropriate. If the attorneys by word or conduct disparage a court ruling, how will their clients be willing to accept an adverse ruling and conform their conduct to that ruling?
The parties have a right to appeal. Ordinarily, the decision to appeal is of no concern to the trial court. Therefore, unless there is some appropriate issue to address in superior court, i.e., bond, representation, supersedeas, do not announce in court your client's intention to appeal.
MARKING, IDENTIFYING AND OFFERING EXHIBITS.
The following procedure shall be used for exhibits:
- Have the clerk mark the item with an identification number.
- Show the identified item to opposing counsel.
- If there is any objection at this point, opposing counsel shall state only: "I have an objection." Generally speaking, at this point only objections which go to the witness identifying the item will be heard, i.e., the identification of the item will, of itself, introduce prejudice, or the item is a violation of a discovery order. Refer to Making Objections herein.
- Have the witness identify the item and explain its relevance.
- Offer the item as an exhibit. This is the time when objections should ordinarily be made. Make objections as to relevancy, hearsay, etc. here. Do not make these objections at step #2. If admitted, the item will become an exhibit and will now have an exhibit number rather than an identification number.
- Once an item has been admitted, it may be discussed with the witness, discussed with other witnesses and shown to or circulated through the jury.
USE OF THE PODIUM AND APPROACHING WITNESSES. Judges do not require attorneys to use the podium. Attorneys may also approach the witness stand without asking permission of the Court. However, attorneys may not approach any witness in a manner that is threatening, hostile or disrespectful. If cross-examination is intended to be intense, adversarial or intimidating, it must be done from the podium. It may be appropriate to intimidate a witness by the threat of clever, insightful and knowledgeable cross-examination. It is not appropriate to intimidate a witness by the threat of physical assault. The podium should also be used when examining very young witnesses.
ADDRESSING OPPOSING COUNSEL OR PARTIES. Generally speaking, it is inappropriate for the attorneys to address each other or to respond except to the Court. Arguments are to be addressed to the Court, not each other. Do not yell at or respond directly to opposing counsel. Address any remarks or requests for relief to the Court. If you need to consult with counsel, simply ask the Court for time to do so.
COMMON EVIDENTIARY/ PROCEDURAL ISSUES:
Impeachment - Know and understand the difference between impeaching a witness with a prior inconsistent statement and offering a statement of a party for substantive purposes. Know the foundation necessary for each procedure.
Expert Witness - While it appears to be common practice, it is not proper to ask a judge to make any sort of finding on the record that a witness is qualified to testify as an expert witness. Any response by the Court would be a comment on the evidence. Any objection to the qualifications of the witness interposed by the opposing party would be taken up outside the presence of the jury.
Making of Objections - Counsel should succinctly state the legal basis for the objection. Objections to evidence are not a platform for argument on the relative merit of the evidence, nor are they an opportunity to point out countervailing testimony.
VOIR DIRE. This is an opportunity to ask the potential jurors questions about themselves and their ability to be fair and impartial. It is not the time for arguments about the law, for extracting promises about how they will deal with the facts, nor for examinations about legal definitions. Questions like: "Can you explain the difference between reasonable doubt and preponderance of the evidence?"; "What is a reasonable doubt?"; "How do you define an assault" are all inappropriate.
Questions concerning the willingness or ability of the venire person to follow the courts instructions are appropriate.
Appropriate: "Will you follow the Court's instruction about reasonable doubt, preponderance of the evidence, negligence, damages, self-defense, etc., even if those instructions are different from what you think they ought to be?"
Inappropriate: "Explain what a reasonable doubt is."; "Did you know that there is no duty to retreat in self-defense?"
CHALLENGES FOR CAUSE. Challenges for cause are to be made outside the presence of the venirepersons unless the Court indicates a willingness to hear them in court. Do not challenge for cause because a venireperson has a problem with scheduling, work, child care, etc. Hardship issues will usually be taken under advisement and dealt with at the end of the voir dire.
INFORMALITY. Do not use first names in addressing anyone in the courtroom.
WEAPONS. All firearms should be disabled before being brought into the courtroom. Bolts, magazines and cylinders should be removed. Actions should be secured with electrical ties or other means. Ammunition should be kept separately from weapons. Knives, clubs or any instrument capable of being used as a weapon should not be placed anywhere that might be a cause for alarm, and particularly should not be handed to defendants.
USE OF TECHNOLOGY IN THE COURTROOM. Cowlitz County has the following equipment available for use in the courtroom: DVD Player with 26" monitor, easels and projection screens.
You are free to use this equipment. However, you must know how it works before you intend to use it. You may make an appointment with our court administration staff to try out what we have before trial. Our staff is not available during trial to assist you with the operation of this equipment.
You are free to use your own equipment, subject to regulation by the trial judge to avoid interference with the trial process. Know how your own equipment works. Do not assume that your video tape will plug into our system. Try it out ahead of time. Electronic presentations can be highly persuasive. Fumbling ineffectively with electronic equipment tends to make an attorney appear unprepared and unprofessional.
The foregoing guide should not be considered as legal advice, nor should it substitute for reading and understanding all applicable court and evidence rules pertaining to your case. It is provided to assist you in your courtroom experience in Cowlitz County Superior Court.