The Common Law

Dos and don'ts of courtroom conduct

I'm going to be a witness in a small-claims court case in a few weeks. I've never been in court before – is there anything I should or shouldn't do when I'm in court?

For people who have never appeared in court, a trip to the courthouse to go before a judge or jury can be a nerve-wracking experience. Many people that I know including previous clients, trial witnesses, friends, and family have expressed reservations about what to do and how to act when they finally arrive at court.

Most jurisdictions promulgate rules of courtroom conduct that are supposed to inform people what to expect and how to conduct themselves in court. The problem is many people don't even know these rules exist.

In Travis County, local rule 16.3 sets out the general rules of courtroom conduct. The Travis County rule states that in courtrooms, there shall be no tobacco used, no chewing gum is allowed (by either a witness or an attorney), no reading newspapers or magazines, no beverages (other than court water pitchers and cups), no food, no propping of feet on tables or chairs, and no noise or talking that interferes with the court proceedings.

Basically, anything you do that could distract from the proceedings will be frowned upon by the court, even if it isn't expressly prohibited by the local rules. For example, enter and exit the courtroom without lots of fanfare. Try not to carry on conversations while the court proceedings are going on, and if you do, keep your voice as quiet as possible. Also, don't forget to turn off your cell phones – as a general rule judges absolutely hate it when cell phones go off during a court proceeding.

And what happens if you forget all this on your way into court? Don't worry, just listen to the judge's instructions at the beginning of the proceeding and, most importantly, use common sense.

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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