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 post. Also- 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, 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.