Candid Feedback: Straight from the Bench

Published March 2014 by Roger Feicht

Each year the Palm Beach County Bar Association’s Judicial Relations Committee interviews all of the judges in our community.  For the past two years, I have had the pleasure of serving as Chair of the Judicial Spokesperson Subcommittee, which conducts these annual interviews of all of the county, circuit, and appellate judges in Palm Beach County.

The judges are asked to provide their feedback to the Judicial Spokesperson Subcommittee on a variety of topics including: Civility & Professionalism; the Annual Bench Bar Conference; the Monthly Judicial Luncheons; Ways for the Palm Beach County Bar Association to Improve; and Ways for Palm Beach County Lawyers to Improve.  All of the judges provide their comments anonymously.  The comments are then assembled and presented to the Judicial Relations Committee.

I would like to thank all of the judges for taking the time out of their busy schedules to provide this invaluable feedback.  It is clear from compiling the pages of notes that the judges were generous with their time and were candid in their feedback, both positive and negative.

I would also like to thank the members of the Judicial Spokesperson Subcommittee for their enthusiasm and conscientiousness in completing the interviews under a tight deadline.

This is a selection of the anonymous comments directly from the judges in Palm Beach County.  Because of the restrictions on the length of articles, these are the comments that were repeated by more than one judge.

Our Judges on Civility & Professionalism

Civility has decreased with the increase in the number of lawyers practicing in our community.  Many lawyers think that because they might not litigate against opposing counsel in the future, there is little reason to remain professional.  However, civility and professionalism increase a lawyer’s credibility with the Court.  In a close case, credibility may be the deciding factor.

Work out problems during discovery without court intervention.  A phone call is much more effective than an email at resolving disputes.  Avoid the temptation of sending unprofessional e-mails back and forth with opposing counsel.  Judges can tell when lawyers have made a real effort to limit the issues before a hearing.

Attorneys should show respect to all Court personnel such as judicial assistants, clerks, and bailiffs.  Disrespectful or condescending behavior will get back to the judge.

When the Courts makes a ruling, stop your argument.  Continuing to argue with the Court after a decision has been made shows a severe lack of professionalism.  If necessary, use the proper appellate process.

Many of the problems with civility result from lawyers from nearby counties.  Lawyers in Palm Beach County can improve the overall situation by ensuring there are always open and cordial lines of communication with opposing counsel on each case.

Review the rules governing professionalism in the Rules of Civil Procedure and Rules of Judicial Administration.  You might think you are compiling with the rule, but are not!  For example, judges often see motions without the proper certification that a good faith effort was made to resolve a motion.

Jurors are often surprised and disgusted at the behavior they witness while inside our courtrooms.  Attorneys should not pride themselves on being aggressive.  They should instead strive to be civil and professional at all times.

Our Judges on How Lawyers Can Improve Their Practice

Before beginning your argument on a motion, remember to introduce yourself and your client, tell the Judge what your motion is, and then argue the motion as succinctly as possible including an explanation of precisely the relief you are requesting.  It is a constant source of amazement that lawyers forget these basics.

Lawyers are not reading the Judges’ divisional instructions.  They are fairly simple and should be followed universally.  Read them before appearing before any judge in Palm Beach County.

(Note: Divisional instructions can be found on the 15th Judicial Circuit’s recently updated website, www.15thcircuit.com)

Emergency motions are being abused.  Attorneys need to understand what constitutes an “emergency.”  A discovery dispute is never an emergency.  If someone could get hurt or a building is going to be torn down, that is an emergency.  Lawyers should stop and read the rule carefully before labeling a motion an “Emergency.”

Don’t ruin your case by arguing unfavorable points.  Read the law and give it a fair interpretation.  Concede the issue when your interpretation is stretched.  If you waste the Court’s time with a bad argument, you will lose credibility. “Your Honor, I concede…” or “Your Honor, we have resolved ….” will always get the Court’s full attention on the remaining issues.

Many lawyers inappropriately schedule hearings in time slots that are too short, which can preclude the Court from having the benefit of full arguments by both sides on all the issues.  Think twice before setting the next motion for Uniform Motion Calendar.

The quality of trial attorneys is suffering because there is not sufficient mentoring by more seasoned attorneys with the younger attorneys.  If you are a young lawyer, find a mentor.  If you are an experienced lawyer, please take the time to be a mentor.  It will dramatically improve our profession and will very likely lead to a mutually beneficial relationship.

Roger W. Feicht practices Business & Employment Litigation with Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart, P.A. out of Gunster’s West Palm Beach office. He can be reached at RFeicht@gunster.com