Parenting Skills and Courtroom Behavior

[Updated from the archives.]

***

Courtrooms are formal and stuffy places, right? Serious business goes on there and everyone is on their best behavior, aren’t they? Would anyone act inappropriately?

The answer to each of those questions is “You’d be surprised.”

I’ve been a judge for 19 1/2 years and am pleased to report that many of the people who enter my courtroom are models of professionalism and good citizenship. These are the ones who make my job easier, a pleasure in fact. There are exceptions, though, and those are the times when my finely honed skills are put to the test.

Which skills, you might ask? Not legal skills. No, it’s parenting skills I’m talking about.

It’s Impolite to be Impolite

Years ago a man making his first appearance on a case stood next to the bailiff, handcuffed and wearing a jail jumpsuit. I asked if he could afford an attorney. He said no so I offered to appoint the Public Defender for him.

“Sure, whatever falls off the dump truck.”

“Sir,” I said, “we don’t disparage anyone in the courtroom.”

He immediately looked down, embarrassed. “Sorry, I didn’t mean any disrespect.”

  • It’s probably one of the most repeated lessons we teach our children: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Or as Peter puts it when quoting from Psalm 34 – “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.” (1 Peter 3:10.)

Waiting Your Turn

I’ve handled a few small claims cases along the way as well. No lawyers are allowed, and the people involved have little familiarity with courtrooms. I try to explain the process clearly but things can get a little out of hand at times. One side will be presenting their evidence and the other won’t be able to keep from blurting out something like, “That’s not true!” And then they proceed to talk over one another.

So I stop them and point out that I can only hear from one side at a time, but they will get their chance and when they do I will make sure the other side does not interrupt them.

  • It’s like when our kids were younger and they’d play pin the tail on the donkey or have a piñata at their birthday parties: “One at a time … Everyone will get a turn … Don’t shove your way in front of the others.” And as Jesus taught – “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. (Luke 22:25-26.)

Inside Voices, Please

Occasionally even the attorneys can lose their cool. If one side thinks the other is taking an unfair position on a case, it can irk them. In worst cases their voices get louder, speech comes more rapidly and (dare I say it) someone sounds a bit whiny.

I will occasionally hold up my hand to stop them, lean into the microphone, and say quietly, “Counsel, petulance is rarely a persuasive form of argument.”

Sometimes they stop and look at me quizzically, trying to sort out the $20 words in that sentence. This is usually just enough of a break to get them off their irked-ness and back on a more productive track.

  • Kids get frustrated easily and it comes across in louder and louder voices so that parents need to calm them down: “I can hear you better if you slow down and use your inside voice.” Paul says this about keeping a cool head – “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” (Romans 12:3.)

Time for Recess!

Judges can get out of hand as well. Whether it’s someone who is punching every button I’ve got and getting on my last nerve, or a trial that has exceeded its time estimate for the third time, or just fighting an ultra-nasty head cold that has me completely out of sorts, I know that I can skate to the edge of uncivil behavior myself (and I’ve even slid right over that edge too).

So I put myself on time-out. Happily I can do that. It’s called taking a recess.

Not how we really do it but a judge can dream, can't he?

Not how we really do it but a judge can dream, can’t he?

  • This was our ultimate parenting tool in raising our kids, the time-out, and there’s no reason we can’t use it on ourselves. Jesus took time to himself: morning (Mark 1:35), noon (John 4), and at night in a crowded storm-tossed boat (Luke 8:23). We can do the same.

Our Heavenly Parent

Which brings me to the real point here: God is the ultimate parent, our loving heavenly Father. (Galatians 4:6-7.) I am so glad he never falters in raising me, his child, in the way he wants me to grow. (Philippians 1:6.) Even though I am now grown up, I am his child forever. (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17.)

***

When have parenting skills (whether you’re a parent or not) come in handy on your job or at school?

When have you seen God parent you?

***

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20 Responses to Parenting Skills and Courtroom Behavior

  1. Deanna says:

    This was funny! I think it would be fascinating to work in a courtroom! I work in a light industrial staffing service and often feel like I am babysitting and/or parenting because of our employees’ lack of work ethic and experience. I often have to walk them through very basic aspects of a good work ethic, things I would’ve taken for granted before. I do have to deal with impoliteness fairly often, mostly related to their frustration with an unsuccessful job search-like the employee who called and said that it was a waste of time to have applied with us, my response was that by saying that you have just ensured that it was a waste of time, because if we might have called you for work before, we certainly won’t do so now! We deal with this so often that I do end up warning a lot of prospective employees during the interview process about not taking their frustrations on us, that it is counterproductive. I am not naturally assertive, but this job has made me much more so and will probably help if I ever get to be a parent!

  2. janehinrichs says:

    Thanks for sharing this again Tim. It helps me feel good about being human! And I really liked your honesty that there have been times you have even lost your cool a bit — love the honesty! Actually, that is the most powerful thing I can think we can write about often –how honest moments when we failed but God’s grace was and still is efficient!

  3. Jeannie says:

    Thanks for sharing this again, Tim — the analogy of the courtroom and parenting is great. In my online teaching job I work with many young people, and often parenting skills do help, especially in conflict situations (e.g. complaints about grades): I try to listen, empathize, state my understanding of their disappointment/frustration, try to re-explain the situation … and I can say 9 times out of 10 there’s satisfactory resolution. I don’t think that percentage is quite so high on the home front, though, but I try! 🙂

  4. Laura Droege says:

    Making time to listen to my children’s thoughts and feelings is a parenting skill that I’m still working on. But a lot of what I do as a writer is listen: listen to how real people talk (dialogue-writing), listen to how different people view the world and those around them (character-building), listen (pay attention, at least) to other people’s gestures and actions (plot, storyline, non-verbal descriptions), listen to how other author’s use words and phrases (crafting sentences/paragraphs). Being observant is helpful for any job, I would think.

    Also, being consistent in disciplining the kids, establishing good routines for daily work, and being organized and on-top of schoolwork and school activities are important for my family. Being able to be consistent, disciplined, and organized is vital for me to continue writing full length novels. It’s too easy to lose focus when I stop writing on a daily basis.

    • Tim says:

      Consistency and organization are key in the courtroom too, Laura, and I can see what you mean about them applying to writing as well. Great points.

  5. Ahab says:

    I’m realizing that immaturity is a universal phenomenon. I met adults who exhibited the childish behaviors you described when I taught college classes during my grad school days, and again when I worked at a call center. I’m relieved to be at a research job now where my colleges act like adults!

  6. caramac54 says:

    You wrote about the courtroom! You talked about your job! (Exclamation point – but I sure do like hearing about it).

    • Tim says:

      Ha! I sometimes think people are going to be bored when I talk legal stuff, but it seems to be appreciated instead!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        You weren’t talking “legal stuff” so much as memoirs of what happened when you found yourself in a Reality Show version of Night Court.

        I’ve had one Small Claims Court experience (which means I can’t brag on my grave marker “XX Years and Never Been Sued”), and it can get to be YouTube/South Park material.

  7. Ruth says:

    Great blog Tim, makes me realise that parenting skills come into play at home and school, as a CRT a lot of my time is really spent parenting students who need a spare mum, friend, encourager for the day ( my favourite part of school, the kids who need )
    Now, like you with an elderly parent, the time has, or will come, when those roles are reversed, and we carefully shepherd our parents through the last stage of their lives whilst pretending to still do what we are told and be good, grown up kids!
    Respecting little children, and the old, and everyone else inbetween is task not to be taken lightly, but enjoyed because God respects us!
    ‘Night Court’, one of my favourite satirical, dry humoured, laugh out loud shows, with respect of course Tim!! 🙂

  8. Pastor Bob says:

    thanks for sharing about what goes inside those special walls. I saw encouragement within those words! Blessings!!

  9. Pingback: Conversation Stoppers: People Are Rude Because Other People Are Too Polite To Call Them On It? | My Everyday Psychology

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