NMissCommentor had this post yesterday about a 5th Circuit oral argument gone bad for Louisiana lawyer Daniel Broussard. Broussard, who says he’s been doing it for forty years, first interrupted Judge Grady Jolly and then proceeded to argue with him:
Judge Jolly: You need to learn how to argue in the Fifth Circuit.
Attorney: [tries to interrupt]
Judge Jolly: That is, you need to learn how to argue in the Fifth Circuit.
Attorney: I know how to argue in the Fifth Circuit. I’ve been doing it for forty years, Judge.
Judge Jolly: Well
Attorney: I clerked for [District] Judge Herbert Christenberry for three years I think I know a little bit about federal courts. Go ahead and tell me, though.
Judge Jolly: No, I’m just telling you that whenever you argue in the Fifth Circuit, you need to listen to the judges instead of interrupting. We’re the ones that decide the case. We ask questions, we like to have answers. We don’t like you to continue to rumble on.. Now, with that said…
Attorney: [interrupting] I appreciate if it is reciprocal. When I’m answering a question, you interrupt me, you don’t let me finish sentences. Is it reciprocal or not?
Judge Jolly: Well, go take a lesson in how to argue in the fifth circuit.
To answer your question Mr. Broussard, no, it’s not reciprocal. Judges get to interrupt in the courtroom. Lawyers don’t.
Remember in My Cousin Vinnie when Joe Pesci’s opening statement was “everything that guy just said is bullshit?” Well one of the things that makes that line so funny for lawyers is that there are plenty of times in court when we’d like to stand up and shout that. Alas, we can’t.
Nor can we interrupt the opposing lawyer when it’s her turn to speak. And for the love of God, we can never interrupt the judge. You have to show decorum and respect for the position even when you don’t think things are going your way in the courtroom.
The best thing about the civil justice system is not its ability to ferret out the truth. The best thing about the system is that it is a peaceful and orderly way to resolve often emotionally charged disputes. That starts with acting appropriately in the courtroom.
For lawyers, that means acting like a professional and showing proper respect for the court. No interrupting, no wise cracks, no lashing out if the judge is being a meany. You have to say, “thank you sir, may I have another?” That’s just the way it works.
Surely Mr. Broussard knew that for most of his 40 plus years of practice.