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, never to 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 not to be there for. A Child Protective Services (CPS) case is an example of one of those issues you prefer not ever to have to face. Be that as it may, if you find yourself being investigated for abuse or neglect of your child, it is essential 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 crowded the county where you reside, the more likely you are to find yourself in a newer, more enormous building that makes it 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 because she has more time available to her compared to a judge from a more extensive county. However, their application of the law contained in the Texas Family Code should not be any different. Knowing this, you can expect some consistency in rulings no matter where your case will 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) to 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 scheduled for hearings on that day. Before the docket is 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 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 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 the judge calls, she may call your case to go early. Your failure to be present when your case is called is an excellent 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 conducting yourself regarding 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 have no idea how to act in specific formalized settings, then this section if for you.
As I mentioned earlier, the judge will call your case eventually to 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. Please 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 by the judge. Interrupting the judge to correct a mistake is not appropriate.
Raising your voice in anger is definitely 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 daily.
When asked a question by the judge, answer as clearly and succinctly as possible. I do not feel that it is necessary to clear up any misconceptions or inaccuracies in answering one question. Answer the question that is honestly asked of you. You can always ask for a question to rephrase or re-asked if you do not understand the question. Addressing the judge as “your honor” is also a good bet.
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 do a lot of your work in arranging what is 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 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 develop ideas to remedy any dangerous or harmful conditions in your home, these folks can assist you with brainstorming solutions to your problems. Often, these meetings can cause old issues to resurface, but I would always counsel someone to put those issues to the side and focus on keeping 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 post. Also- safety plans are essential tools to allow your child to remain in your home while potentially 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, PLLC, 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.