Today I took a trip down memory lane when thoughts of the television show – Seinfeld – cruised into my mind’s eye. Depending on your age, you may recall the classic Seinfeld episode where Elaine becomes convinced that the hospital is refusing to treat her medical condition because she has gained the reputation of being a trouble patient. Throughout the episode, Elaine attempts a series of increasingly difficult measures to steal the doctor’s notes, with the goal of uncovering the doctor’s true thoughts and impressions.
Unlike the Seinfeld episode discussed above, New Mexico judge’s tend to leave their notes and insights in plain view. These impressions are often reflected in the Minute Order that results from one’s Hearing that memorializes the judge’s ruling – particularly when one is represented pro se (i.e. without an attorney), and the Order is either prepared by the judge, or the opposing attorney. At times, a potential client comes into my office after representing themselves pro se, and for any manner of reasons the Hearing went poorly. In these situations I review the docket to see what pleadings have been filed, Hearings set, and Orders that have been entered.
Virtually every Minute Order contains a glimmer of insight explaining why the judge ruled in a particular manner. In some cases, I also find direct statements that shed light on how a potential client either presented themselves at a particular court setting, or one’s general conduct throughout the course of litigation. Here are a handful of examples illustrating the impressions that judges weave into court Orders. These statements create momentum in one’s case and ultimately color the lenses through which the judge views the case:
Husband has a history of acting aggressively in court;
Wife has demonstrated a pattern of litigating in bad faith;
Father has wantonly violated court orders despite stern and repeated warnings from the court;
Mother’s communications with Father have become increasingly belligerent and abusive;
Husband’s history of anger and domestic violence raises concerns regarding the minor child’s safety; and
The court has concerns about Wife’s demeanor and the truth of her testimony.
It is human nature for first impressions to have a palpable and lasting effect. This psychological truism not only applies to job interviews and first dates – it also applies to one’s assigned judge in legal proceedings. At times, a person has never been involved with the legal process and consequently has no way of conceptualizing the events that will likely unfold. This same individual generally turns to family and friends for guidance. Often these family and friends provide well intentioned, yet wildly inaccurate advice on a number of issues that run the gamut from New Mexico law, courtroom etiquette, and how to ideally present one’s case. At times one is told to be overly aggressive with the judge in order to assert one’s dominance. At other times a parent is told to act angry and aggressively with representatives from Court Clinic – the very individuals that routinely play an integral role in molding a parent’s time with their child, through highly influential recommendations regarding the appropriate time-sharing arrangement.
Most of these individuals freely give and take legal advice with the best of intentions. Alas, the road leading towards most of the judge’s statements showcased above were paved with good intentions. The road leading to an unnecessarily bumpy and arduous court case is also paved with good intentions. The well intentioned – albeit misguided – road often leads to a party inadvertently leaving a bad taste in the judge’s mouth that negatively flavors the legal journey that one travels.