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Disorder in the Court: 5 Things You Never Do in Front of a Judge

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on April 09, 2013 10:44 AM

When it comes to questions about life in general, teen comedies hold all the answers. "Breakfast Club," "Clueless," "Ten Things I Hate About You," 'Mean Girls." The teen comedy cannon is the oracle of the modern world.

For trial advocacy tips, however, we turn to an award-winning classic, "My Cousin Vinny," a movie that teaches lawyers that we can lie to judges, shun every rule of courtroom decorum, and still win a case.

Or, if you don't want to rely on a Hollywood ending to save you from a contempt charge, Vincent Gambini can teach you a thing or two about how not to behave in court. Here are five things you never do in front of a judge, courtesy of 'My Cousin Vinny'.

Sit when addressing the court

Judge Chamberlain Haller is not impressed when Vinny tries to enter a not guilty plea for his clients while seated. “Don’t talk to me sitting in that chair,” he instructs. “When you’re addressed in this court, you’ll rise. Speak to me in a clear, intelligible voice.” The same applies in real life: always stand when addressing the court.

You guys

The appropriate honorific for a judge is “your honor.” If you’re appearing before a panel of judges, it becomes “your honors.” Never, ever, ever “you guys.” If you don’t think this happens in real life, try volunteering as a moot court judge at your nearest law school. Then get back to us.

Yell at the judge

Vinny turns the tables when he scolds Judge Haller for ruining his line of questioning while he’s trying to prove in court that the eyewitness to his clients’ alleged escape actually has poor vision. Scolding a judge in the real world, however, is not such a good idea.

Last week, for example, California attorney Frank Carson and Judge Linda McFadden yelled at each other for more than 20 minutes, accusing each other of shouting and being disrespectful, the ABA Journal reports. Though such heated discussions are rare, they will always end badly for the lawyer. In this case, the judge slapped the attorney with a $200 fine.

Swear

Vinny gives the best opening statement in movie history: Everything that guy just said is bulls***. Thank you.

Unfortunately, it’s argumentative and stricken from the record. Except for the “thank you.”

Swearing in court is another way to find yourself in a jail cell. Save the four-letter words for your office; don’t curse in court.

Wear inappropriate attire

Judge Haller scolds Vinny for wearing his leather jacket to court, saying, “Mr. Gambini, didn’t I tell you that the next time you appear in my court that you dress appropriately?” Vinny, for it’s worth, indicates that he didn’t believe Judge Haller was serious. Just a tip: Judges are always serious.

You don’t have to spend a fortune on your court wardrobe, but you should plan to wear a suit if you’re appearing before a judge.

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