Tag: Divorce Court Etiquette

Free Speech and the Stark’s Divorce

Pity the Starks of the North. As if the Red Wedding wasn’t enough, now they filed for divorce. To keep things calm, the divorce court restrained them from harassing, abusing, or making disparaging remarks about the other in front of their children and employers. Then things went south.

Winter is Coming

After a five-year marriage, Pamela Stark filed for divorce from her husband, Joe Stark. She is an attorney (formerly a prosecutor) and filed her complaint pro se. He is a sergeant with the Memphis Police Department.

Pamela’s email to the town mayor claimed she was a victim of domestic violence by Joe and a victim of misconduct by the entire Police Department in the handling of her investigation.

She named her husband by name and rank and described her version of the physical altercation between them and the events that followed. Pam asked the mayor in an email to “look into this before it goes further.”

Pamela also wrote the following in a Facebook post:

I speak now as a recent victim of domestic violence at the hands of a Memphis Police Officer. I can attest to how wide the thin blue line can get . . . However it is even more devastating. Who do you turn to when those worn to serve and protect and enforce the law, don’t.

Joe asked the divorce court to order the Facebook post removed, arguing “that such dissemination of these allegations could cause immediate irreparable harm to his reputation and employment” because he and Pam have mutual friends on Facebook. The judge agreed.

Florida Divorce and Free Speech

I’ve written about free speech in family cases before. Family courts have a lot of power to protect children in custody cases. Florida courts have to balance a parent’s right of free expression against the state’s interest in assuring the well-being of minor children.

In one Florida case, a judge prohibited a parent from speaking Spanish to a child. The Mother was Venezuelan, and because the Father did not speak Spanish, the court ordered: “Under no circumstances shall the Mother speak Spanish to the child.”

In the Florida case, the judge was concerned about the Mother’s comments, after the Mother “whisked” the child away from the time-sharing supervisor in an earlier incident and had a “private” conversation with her in a public bathroom. She was also bipolar and convicted of two crimes.

An appellate court reversed the restriction. Ordering a parent not to speak Spanish violates the freedom of speech and right to privacy. Florida law tries to balance the burden placed on the right of free expression essential to the furtherance of the state’s interests in promoting the best interests of children.

In other words, in that balancing act, the best interests of children can be a compelling state interest justifying a restraint of a parent’s right of free speech.

Chilling Speech

Joe testified that his co-workers at the police department saw Pam’s Facebook post, that they have many mutual friends on social media, and that a special prosecutor from another city was appointed to conduct an investigation regarding the alleged incident of domestic violence involving him and Pam.

The trial court ordered that the post be removed:

  • The Court: Ms. Stark, please stand. Are you going to comply with this Court’s orders?
  • Ms. Stark: No, I’m not.
  • The Court: All right. I’m making a finding that you are in direct contempt of court by willfully refusing to comply with this Court’s orders. You will be held held in custody until such time that you decide that you want to change your position and you apologize to this Court.

Pam at first refused to take down the post, but was jailed for four hours and then did. Pam appealed the contempt order. However, the divorce case in which the restraining order was entered was still pending.

Because she appealed from the contempt order, she was limited in her ability to raise issues, and when Pam took down the Facebook post, the contempt issue became moot.

The Reason article is here.

 

Divorce Court Circus

America’s Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, was reportedly yelling and cursing his way through his recent divorce court hearing in New York. The judge blasted both the ex-Mayor and his wife, Judith Nathan, for turning the room into a divorce court circus.

Divorce Court Circus

Big Apple Circus

According to news reports, Giuliani snapped “Goddamnit!” at one point when accused by a lawyer for Nathan of failing to pay a $21,000 in nursing home bill arrears for her mother, as promised.

“That’s total bulls–t! That’s total bulls–t!” he hissed at another point, when the opposing lawyer, Bernard Clair, later suggested that Giuliani’s reported mistress, Maria Ryan, could be the one to grant appraisers access to multiple Florida properties they’re fighting over.

How do you avoid turning your trial into a divorce court circus?

Florida Divorce

If criminal court judges see the worst people acting their best, family judges see the best people acting their worst. Divorces are stressful, and issues like child custody, relocation, and domestic violence can take their toll on people.

I’ve written about courtroom behavior before. Since you’re always being evaluated in court, and in light of the Giuliani divorce antics, what follows is a list of “dos” and “don’ts” to avoid your own divorce court circus. (These are true stories by the way.)

  • 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 during your testimony.
  • 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.
  • Do – Keep your pants on.
  • Don’t – lose your temper in court, give the middle finger salute, dare the judge to hold you in contempt while holding your arms out as if you are being handcuffed and then contact the judge’s judicial assistant, and call her: “You little mother******; you and the judge, that mother****** son of a b****.”
  • Do – Be Courteous to the Court staff. Court personnel make the courts run efficiently, and angering court officers won’t help your case.

Sadly, these are cases of what people have actually done in court, and all of these instances are documented. Consider the seriousness of the divorce process and the stress family everyone is under to do the right thing.

A New York State of Mind

Acting as the divorce court circus master, Supreme Court Justice Michael Katz chided:

“Mr. Giuliani!” “Don’t interrupt the proceeding. You have lawyers representing you”.

The Giulianis don’t get along well together. For example, he alleges that Nathan approached him at the Emerald Dunes Golf Club in Florida and took his photograph. Nathan’s side said it never happened and that Giuliani shouted at her and insisted he was at the club buying items for his girlfriend’s daughter.

The judge reluctantly stepped in to play peacemaker.

“Whoever is in the room first gets to stay in the room. If Mr. Giuliani is in one room in one of their common clubs, he can go to a different room and visa versa.”

Earlier, the judge scolded at the parties and lawyers:

“At this juncture in a case — it’s been almost a year since filings — the process calms down. Yet it’s still a circus.”

Asked outside court what was holding up the divorce, Giuliani said, “Her.”

The New York Daily News article is available here.

 

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.

 

Courtroom Manners – How to (Not) Act in Court

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Divorce on Monday, December 2, 2013.

It’s been said that in criminal courts, judges see the worst people acting their best. If so, family judges see the best people acting their worst. child custody, relocation, and domestic violence cases put a lot of stress on people. Since you’re always being evaluated, what follows is a list of “dos” and “don’ts”.

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.

Don’t – lose your temper in court, give the middle finger salute, dare the judge to hold you in contempt while holding your arms out as if you are being handcuffed and then contact the judge’s judicial assistant, and call her: “You little mother******; you and the judge, that mother****** son of a b****.”

Do – Be Courteous to the Court staff. Court personnel make the courts run efficiently, and angering court officers may impact your case.

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.