The Paletz Law Blog

“Will You Swear To Tell The Truth?”: 5 Tips For Being A Witness In Court

November 22nd, 2017 | By: John M. Mione, Esq.

Attending court as a witness can be an anxious experience for a non-attorney. For property managers and others who work in the industry, most courts at some point require the testimony of a witness in order to proceed with a landlord-tenant case. Most commonly, because the property manager is most familiar with the tenancy at issue, they will be called upon to testify.

The most obvious thing to know from the start is that court is not like you see on television. So, for all you fans of Law & Order, do not get your hopes up – they call that program a “drama” for a reason.

Here are five recommendations to think about before your court appearance:

  1. Dress appropriately. A good rule of thumb is to dress as if you are on trial yourself. This is usually the only chance you have to make an impression on the judge, so make it count. In fact, some courts will require you to leave if you are not dressed appropriately. I recommend you start with these guidelines: No jeans, no tee shirts, no hats and no ripped clothing or anything with holes. And remember – you are going to court, not the club.
  2. Talk to your attorney ahead of time. Your attorney should help you prepare beforehand so you know what questions to anticipate from the judge and opposing attorney, if applicable. A couple suggestions: (a) only answer the question that is being asked and (b) you do not need to offer additional information. Even if you are trying to be helpful, if you say something “extra” without first discussing it with your attorney, it could end up hurting your case.
  3. Be honest. There is an old saying that if you are honest, then you don’t have to remember anything. And as another saying goes, it’s not the crime – it’s the cover up. Not only will lying potentially get exposed by an experienced attorney on cross examination, but you could be charged with perjury, which is a felony.
  4. Be respectful of court staff. This is not just judges – this includes court clerk(s), court reporters, interns and court officers. They are the “gatekeepers” and the judge will often rely on them as his/her advisors. So, you don’t want to get on the wrong side of the staff; otherwise, you may make your case more difficult.
  5.  Be patient. If you are at court for a contested case, the judge will usually wait until the end of the docket to hear it. This is because the court typically wants to first handle the matters on its docket that are easy to resolve. That way, they can move the docket along more efficiently. Therefore, if you have a hearing that may have multiple witnesses and it is scheduled for the morning, plan on being there the entire morning or longer. Likewise, if it is set for the afternoon, budget your time to allow you to be there all afternoon. If you know this going in, you will better be able to handle the delays that often are a natural part of the court process. Of course, they never show that part on “Law and Order.”

The Bottom Line: Not many people want to go to court; but if you must, follow these tips and you will increase your chances of having a better experience.

The information contained in this article is only meant to be a basic overview and should not be construed as legal advice. Readers should not act upon this information without the advice of an attorney. The contents are intended for general information purposes only and may not be quoted or referred to in any other publication or otherwise be disseminated without the prior written consent of Paletz Law.

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