Family Courtroom Behavior

It’s been said that criminal court judges see the worst people acting their best, and family court judges see the best people acting their worst. That old adage comes to mind reading about the antics in the divorce of Formula One billionaire heiress Petra Ecclestone from her husband James Stunt.

A Wild Divorce Hearing

Ecclestone and Stunt have each hired some of England’s most high-profile divorce lawyers to represent them in court hearings, which are expected to start next month.

Their £158 million mansion in Los Angeles and a Grade II-listed house in the fashionable London district of Chelsea – worth up to £100 million – are expected to just some of the assets fought over.

As the Daily Mail reports, extraordinary details of their bitter marriage were laid bare during a highly-charged court hearing yesterday. The businessman, who runs an international gold bullion firm, was yesterday accused of behaving in a ‘disgraceful’ and ‘unedifying’ way prior to the hearing.

The bad-tempered hearing boiled over when Mr. Stunt, 35, slammed his hand onto a table and appeared to make a ‘gun gesture’ with his hand.

He then pointed at Mr. Ecclestone before calling him a ‘c***’ under his breath. Stunt then tapped him on the shoulder and stormed out of the court room.

Mr. Ecclestone stood up as if to confront him and started to follow him before the judge intervened. Recorder Richard Anelay QC: ‘Please Mr. Ecclestone, don’t respond. I know it’s tempting. For the record I saw [Mr. Stunt] clearly tap Mr. Ecclestone on the shoulder.

‘I think my intervention prevented rather actually prevented Mr. Ecclestone from wanting to retaliate. ‘Don’t carry it on outside please, it will not help you in the long run.’

Courtroom Behavior

I’ve written about courtroom behavior before. As a couple of good rules of thumb to follow:

  • Don’t – come to a custody hearing wearing your Nazi uniform – complete with swastika patch on the arm and leather boots – and demand a family court judge let you see your son.
  • Do – Dress in a neat and professional manner.
  • Don’t – Speak on your cellular telephone because judges hate ringing cell phones. Judges hate ringing phone so much, that U.S. District Judge Hugh B. Clarke Jr. fined himself $50 when his own cell phone started ringing during a hearing.
  • Do – Keep your cell phone ringer off, and if you absolutely need to have your phone on, put it on vibrate.
  • Don’t – Take off your pants and show the judge your rear end. Try not to make faces or gestures, don’t show your anger or disdain for the other side or the court.
  • Do – Keep a “poker” face when others are talking, and be clear and confident and in a loud clear voice when you are talking.

Yes, sadly these are cases of what people have actually done in court, and all of these instances are documented. Consider the solemnity of the courtroom, the stress family cases have on everyone, and show some respect to the judges and others in the courtroom who deal with these cases on a daily basis.

Back to the London Hearing

With those rules of thumb, consider some of the antics at the Ecclestone v. Stunt hearing. During the hour-long hearing, Mr. Stunt repeatedly laughed, scoffed, panted, sighed and raised his hands in the air as lawyers gave their submissions.

At one point the judge asked him to stop gesticulating because it was ‘very distracting’.

The husband, who was sporting a wedding band, smirked as he raised his middle finger towards photographers outside the court building.

The Daily Mail article is here.