Court Observation Assignment
Legal & Ethical Environment of Business
Dr. Leanne M. DeFoor
Summary: Students will observe a judicial proceeding and write a short (1-3 page) paper summarizing their observations and analyzing how the events at the proceeding relate to a concept (or concepts) we cover in our course.
Instructions: Students may attend a judicial proceeding in the court of their choice (Superior Court, Magistrate Court, Probate Court, Federal District Court, State or Federal Appellate Court, Tax Court, Bankruptcy Court, Traffic Court, Drug Court, etc.). The dockets and court calendar for many courts can be found on the court’s website. For example, the Docket/Calendar for Carroll County Superior Court is posted a week in advance here: http://www.carrollcountyclerk.com/calendars.html and the proceedings begin at 9 AM. In addition, criminal preliminary hearings in Carroll County are held on the first Friday of the month at 8 AM at the Carroll County Jail. Whenever possible, students should be at the courtroom and ready to begin observation at the time the proceeding begins. If you are doing an afternoon observation in Superior Court, you may begin your observation after the lunch recess (typically 1 PM or shortly thereafter). Keep in mind that courts recess at good stopping points, not on a fixed schedule, so the lunch recess may be earlier or later than the noon hour. Do NOT go into the courtroom in the middle of a proceeding. If you arrive at court after the morning proceedings have begun or after the lunch recess has ended, you will need to wait until a break to enter the courtroom. There typically is a 5 minute break about every hour to hour and a half. Once you enter the courtroom, do not leave until the next break (this may be an hour or two later).
Make a note of the case name and number, the date and time of your observation (including how long you stayed), the name of the judge, parties, and attorneys (if you catch them), and a list of the issues to be addressed that day (e.g., summary judgment motion, voir dire of prospective jurors, status conference, motion to dismiss, direct examination of witness, cross-examination of witnesses, motions in limineoutside the presence of the jury, etc.). Also, pay attention to the demeanor of the attorneys in the courtroom. Are they respectful/deferential to the judge? Are they argumentative? Do they have different styles (forceful, laid back, cordial, aggressive, etc.)? Take notes throughout the proceeding to use in drafting your paper later. Your notes will be turned in as part of your assignment submission.
Once you return home, review your notes/textbook on the concepts addressed in the court proceeding and write your paper discussing how what you observed relates to the concepts in our course, how your observation improved your understanding of those concepts, and anything remarkable that struck you as interesting or something you learned that you did not know beforehand.
Logistics of Courtroom Observations:
If you will be observing in Superior Court or a court in a relatively large jurisdiction, please refer to the online calendar or, if one is not available, call the Clerk of Court to determine what types of cases are being heard on the day you plan to attend court.
The following types of cases are NOT suitable for observations without advance approval from the professor: domestic violence actions, child custody disputes, child support disputes, legitimation hearings, adoptions, child name change proceedings, or other sensitive litigation involving families and especially children. Those types of proceedings are deserving of privacy, and they do not tend to relate to business law anyway.
NOTE: If for some reason you strongly desire to view one of these types of proceedings, you can see me and make your request far enough in advance for me to contact the attorneys and see if they would mind having a student observe the proceeding. I will not accept submissions for observations in these proceedings unless you have received express permission in advance from me to attend.
General Note: Normally, the only people who attend court proceedings are the parties, their family members, witnesses that will be called to testify, and the parties’ attorneys. It is not customary to have strangers or visitors in the courtroom, so the judge and attorneys may be a bit surprised that you are there. In addition, in most trials or hearings involving witnesses, the attorneys will invoke the “rule of sequestration,” which prevents witnesses from remaining in the courtroom during the hearing or trial. If the “rule” is invoked, all witnesses will be ordered by the judge to leave the courtroom. What this means is that you will probably be the only person left in the courtroom. If this happens, the judge or attorneys will almost certainly ask you who you are and why you are still in the courtroom. You should respectfully state that you are a student at University of West Georgia and are there to observe a judicial proceeding as part of your business law course. Ask them if it is ok for you to remain in the courtroom to quietly observe the proceedings. The judge will more than likely tell you that it is fine for you to stay. The judge and attorneys will probably be genuinely happy (maybe even a little flattered) that you have chosen to observe them. In rare instances, the proceeding may be closed to the public. In that case, they might ask you to leave. This is not usual, and I do not think you will have any problems remaining in the courtroom to observe. If this does happen to you, let me know, and we will discuss how you will receive credit on the assignment.
Rules of Etiquette: YOU ARE REPRESENTING UWG WHEN YOU GO TO COURT.
NOTE: These rules are MANDATORY and extremely important. If I hear that you have violated any of these rules, you will not receive credit for the observation, and you may be subject to further discipline. I know most of the local area judges and many of the attorneys, so I will likelyhear if one of my students behaves unprofessionally in court.
• Dress appropriately for court. You do not have to wear a suit, but you should be dressed business casual at a minimum. This means slacks/trousers/skirt and a golf shirt/blouse/oxford. Do not wear t-shirts, tank tops, midriffs, sweats, shorts,sleeveless/revealing/low cut tops, or other casual attire to court.
NOTE: in preliminary hearings held at the jail, visitors are not allowed to wear shorts, capris, or sleeveless tops. The shoulders and upper arms must be covered at all times. (You are in a jail. They don’t see many college girls and guys there. Don’t be a distraction to the inmates.)• Power OFF all cell phones and electronics before entering the courtroom. Simply silencing your cell phone is not enough- it needs to be powered off. Even silent phones will create interference with the AV equipment in the courtroom, causing a very distracting buzzing in the microphones and speakers. You can survive without your phone for an hour or two. J• Do NOT talk in the courtroom- not even a whisper! I strongly prefer that courtroom observations be completed individually. However, in limited instances, I will allow a group of students to observe a proceeding together. If you are observing with other students, it will be extremely tempting to whisper during the proceeding. Do not do it. Although you may think you are being quiet, courtrooms are small. The judge can see you whispering,and the parties and attorneys at counsel table can probably hear the whispers. Do not pass notes back and forth at all, either, for the same reason.• Do NOT go in-and-out of the courtroom. Make sure you use the restroom before court starts. Judges usually call a 5-minute recess (sometimes longer) every hour or two. You can go out of or into the courtroom during those short breaks. Do not go in or out of the courtroom during the proceedings. This is a big pet peeve, and if you do it more than once, the judge will probably ask you to leave and not come back.• Be extremely respectful to the judge and attorneys. It is customary to stand when speaking to a judge or anytime the judge comes into or goes out of the courtroom. You will notice even the attorneys and parties do this. Likewise, if the judge asks you a question about who you are, why you are there, etc., it would be good manners to standbefore answering. Say, “yes, Your Honor,” or “No, Your Honor,” or “Thank you, Your Honor,” as appropriate. The attorneys may want to chit-chat with you during breaks to ask what you think about the proceeding, how they are doing, etc. Feel free to talk to the attorneys and answer their questions if they talk to you first, but don’t initiate conversations with attorneys during the proceeding. They are very busy and have a lot on their mind. If you stay until the end of the day, feel free to ask the attorneys if they have a minute to talk to you at the end of the hearing or when court recesses for the day.
BUSA 2106 Observation Form for Court Proceedings
Date of Observation:__________________________________
Venue and Court: ______________________________________
Name of Case: __________________________________________
Presiding Judge: _______________________________________
Type of Proceeding:____________________________________
Brief Description of Case:________________________________________________________________________
Student Notes from the Proceeding:____________________________________________________________