Whenever a client asks me how to act in court I always smile and think
that person must have led a pretty good life to that point to never have
had to enter a courtroom for any reason. The fact of the matter is that
most of the time when you have to go to court it is for something that
you would prefer to not be there for. A Child Protective Services (CPS) case is an example of one of those issues you prefer not to ever have
to face. Be that as it may, if you find yourself being investigated for
abuse or neglect of your child it is important to know what you can expect
to see in court and how to act accordingly.
The look and feel of your courtroom
Courtrooms in Texas come in all shapes and sizes. The more populous the
county where you reside the more likely you are to find yourself in a
newer, bigger building that make look a whole lot like courtrooms you’ve
seen on TV or in the movies. On the other hand, if you live in a smaller
county your courthouse is likely to be more modest- without the trappings
of a big city courthouse.
What will not differ is how the law is applied to your case. A judge may
be able to apply more individualized attention to your case in a smaller
county by virtue of the fact that she has more time available to her compared
to a judge from a bigger county. Their application of the law contained
in the Texas Family Code should not be any different, however. Knowing
this you can expect some consistency in rulings no matter where your case
is going to be heard.
When you walk into your courtroom you can expect to see the judge’s
bench at the back of the room against a wall. The judge will have a seat
that is elevated above the rest of the people in the courtroom (attorneys
included) so that she can see what is going on and can speak directly
to any person in the room in case instructions need to be given.
Next to the judge will be her clerk who keeps track of the judge’s
docket as well as a court reporter who will take a word for word typed
record of what is said in your and every other hearing set in the court
that day. In front of the judge will be two tables where you, CPS, and
any other parties to your case may sit during the hearing. In some counties,
Harris included, parties will typically stand during a hearing near to
the bench where the judge can direct questions and listen to testimony.
At the beginning of the court’s session, the judge will call the
docket. The docket is a list of cases that are scheduled for hearings
on that day. Prior to the docket being called the bailiff will instruct
all persons inside the courtroom to rise as a sign of respect to the judge
when she enters the courtroom. Remain standing until the judge allows
you and the rest of the people in the courtroom to sit back down.
Once seated listen closely for your case to be called. The judge will likely
be calling many cases that day so while you may be present and ready at
9:00 your case may not be called on the docket until fifteen minutes later
and may not actually go in front of the judge until the afternoon. Be
prepared for any outcome as far as that is concerned.
After your case is called and you have a better idea of when your case
will actually go before the judge you can leave the courtroom unless instructed
otherwise by your attorney or courtroom staff. Before leaving make sure
your attorney knows where you are going. Do not stray far because if other
cases are not ready to go when called by the judge she may call your case
to go early. Your failure to be present at the time your case is called
is a good way to upset every person involved in your case- including the judge.
Acting appropriately in the courtroom
I always hesitate to give too much advice on how to conduct yourself in
regard to any aspect of your case. After all, you are an adult and know
how to act in most situations. However, if you have never been to court
or just have no idea at all how to act in certain formalized settings
then this section if for you.
As I mentioned earlier, the judge will call your case eventually to actually
come up before her for the hearing. You, your attorney and any other persons
involved with your case will come forward to speak to the judge. Pay attention
to cues from your attorney as to where you should sit or stand and when
it is appropriate for you to speak. While the judge may be speaking about
you or your child it is not appropriate to speak up unless asked to do
so by the judge. Interrupting the judge to correct a mistake is not appropriate.
Raising your voice in anger is a definite thing to avoid when going before
a judge. CPS may say things to the judge that you believe to be incorrect
or misleading. Address those concerns with your attorney rather than attempting
to address them in the hearing. By following the standards of conduct
in a hearing as a professional would you can show the judge that you are
taking the case seriously and are ready to take on the responsibility
of once again caring for your child on a daily basis.
When asked a question by the judge answer as clearly and succinctly as
possible. Do not feel that it is necessary to clear up any misconceptions
or inaccuracies in one answer to one question. Answer the question that
is asked of you in an honest manner. You can always ask for a question
to rephrased or re-asked if you do not understand the question. Addressing
the judge as “your honor” is a good bet as well.
Your family as a support system for helping you achieve a successful result
in your CPS case
A CPS case does not just involve you and your child. Your family and friends
are affected by the investigation as well. As a result, you need to circle
the wagons and have these folks help you do what it takes to reach a successful
conclusion to your case.
CPS will actually do a lot of the work for you in arranging what are known
as Family Group Decision Making meetings. These are meetings in which
you are encouraged to invite people to attend with you that you feel like
are positive reflections of your ability to parent and care for your child.
The nice thing about these meetings is that they typically occur before
the time that your child is removed from your home.
If you are struggling to come up with ideas to remedy any dangerous or
harmful conditions in your home these folks can assist you with brainstorming
solutions to your problems. Often times these meetings can cause old issues
to resurface but I would always counsel someone to put those issues to
the side and to focus on how to keep your child safe and in your home.
More on family meetings with CPS and safety plans in tomorrow’s blog post
Your family will play a central role in your CPS case and we will discuss
in detail how they can help you and your child in tomorrow’s blog
safety plans are important tools to allow your child to remain in your home while potential
harmful issues in your home are worked on. We will go over these plans as well.
If you have any immediate questions for the attorneys with the
Law Office of Bryan Fagan please do not hesitate to
contact our office. We can schedule a free of charge consultation for you at our
office. We meet with people in our community just like you six days a week.