Monday, July 8, 2019

You found the courtroom! Now what?

If your jury panel was called for trial selection, just wait outside the courtroom until the bailiff lets you in.
Once inside, you'll usually be seated in the audience, called the “gallery”, until your name is selected to be seated in the jury box.
Here's a jury box in Ohio
Here's a jury box in Nebraska
Here's a jury box in Kansas
Here's a jury box in Texas
Then the judge and attorneys will ask the jurors questions to determine which ones will be selected to decide the case.

If you're in court to attend a hearing on your own case, check the wall outside the courtroom door.  You should find a list of the cases on calendar for that day, sometimes on a cork board and other times in a glass display case.

This courthouse is in Arkansas
Here's one page from a recent calendar in downtown Los Angeles.
Find your case name/number.  Next to your case will be a calendar number.  See there on the left?  Remember that number.  That's how you check in.  At least, that's how you check in if you're in court in Southern California.  For attorneys, we write the calendar number and the party we represent on our business card, or two cards if the courtroom has a court reporter.

In many courtrooms, the bailiff will ask you to sit on a specific side of the courtroom based on whether you are plaintiff or defendant in the case.  Plaintiff's side is closest to the jury box.  Sometimes there's even a placard on counsel table.

This is the defense table
So if you're a plaintiff, you'll sit in the gallery on the side with the jury box.  If you're a defendant, you'll sit on the other side.  Since the whole point of “going to court” is because the parties have a dispute, this is one step the bailiffs take to keep the courtroom as orderly and non-confrontational as possible, at least until the hearing starts.

Before you go inside the courtroom, TURN OFF YOUR CELL PHONE.

Sometimes this is okay, other times not
If your phone makes noise while the judge is on the bench, most of the time the bailiff will send you out into the hallway.  Sometimes this means you miss your hearing.  Other times, the bailiff will confiscate your phone.  If you're lucky, you'll get it back when your hearing is finished, but I've been in some courtrooms where you don't get it back until 4:30 in the afternoon.  Ouch.

Fun cell phone anecdote #1:  Usually the bailiff will give a speech before the judge comes out, informing everyone of the consequences of their phone making noise.  Then the judge comes out and things proceed.  One morning about 30 minutes after the judge came out, a phone rang.

From the front of the courtroom.

The judge grinned
sheepishly, reached under his robe, retrieved his OWN PHONE, shut it off, and handed it to the bailiff.

Fun cell phone anecdote #2:  I was waiting for a small claims trial to finish.  The defendant didn't show up, so all the plaintiff had to do was prove his case and he would have judgment in his favor.  During plaintiff's presentation, his cell phone rang.  [This happened to me once, and I smacked my pocket to shut it off, then apologized profusely to the judge who still ordered the bailiff to take my phone until my hearing was finished.  Now I usually put my phone on vibrate AND airplane mode before I even enter the courthouse.]


Everyone else in the courtroom was stunned.  We sat there with our mouths hanging open, staring at this plaintiff, or at the judge, or at the bailiff, wondering what would happen.

The judge sat there patiently while the plaintiff concluded his call.  No one moved. We may not have even been breathing.  Once the call was finished, the judge said “that call must have been very important to you.”  The plaintiff acknowledged that yes, it was a very important call, which is why he interrupted his trial to take it.  He then thanked the judge for his consideration.

The judge responded “you now have a decision to make.  Which is more important to you?  This trial, or your phone?  If you choose your phone, you can keep it and I'll grant judgment in favor of DEFENDANT.  If you choose this trial, I'll grant judgment in YOUR favor but you'll have to surrender your phone until TOMORROW MORNING.  Which do you choose?”

The man chose his phone and lost the case.

Turn off your phone.


  1. I got summoned and went through the jury selection process. Was there for 3 days but luckily (?) they filled the jury before calling my number. It was an interesting experience. Murder trial.

    Janet’s Smiles

    1. Murder trials tend to be on the longer side. Usually more than a week. Some people like that long of a trial but most don't. But glad you showed up and performed your "civic duty". Thanks =)