What to Expect in Court
The night before court
The night before you go to court you should get to bed early and get plenty of sleep. Court can be a stressful and tiring experience, so it is important that you come to court rested and ready to participate.
If you are unsure of the location of the courthouse, parking facilities or the courtroom location, please contact the clerk's office for this information the day before court. A directory of Maine Courts, including directions, can be found here.
Determine how long it will take you to drive to court and make sure you leave enough time for circumstances you may encounter on the road, such as road construction or inclement weather.
How to dress for court
Court is a place of solemn business. All persons, including lawyers, parties, witnesses, jurors, or spectators are expected to dress in appropriate, neat, and clean clothing.
Shorts, caps and hats (except those worn for religious reasons), tank tops, muscle shirts, halters, flip-flops, and t-shirts with vulgar or profane words, or which depict drugs, alcohol, violence, or sex, are examples of inappropriate clothing.
Lawyers are responsible for instructing their clients and witnesses regarding appropriate clothing.
Tattoos that display drugs, sex, violence, or alcohol may not be visible.
If you are inappropriately dressed you may be asked to leave the courtroom.
We appreciate your cooperation with these guidelines.
Do not bring children to court. Court sessions are long for children to sit through and silence is important for all spectators while in court. Children may be excluded from the courtroom, if their behavior is disruptive. Our courthouses do not have child care facilities or anyone to watch your children. We recommend that you make arrangements for the care of your children while you are in court.
When you arrive at court
When you arrive at the courthouse, metal detectors are set up at the front door. Make sure you are not carrying anything that might be considered a weapon.
You should go directly to the courtroom where your case will be heard. If you are unsure of the courtroom, please proceed to the clerk's office and ask where your scheduled case will be heard. Some courthouses have information desks that can help you find the correct courtroom.
Prior to entering the courtroom, please turn off or silence your cell phone or pager.
Listen to instructions from court staff and from the judge. The proceedings are sound recorded, so please remain quiet until it is your time to speak. While in the courtroom it is important to remember the following
Dos and Don'ts
- Do exercise self -control, no matter what is said in the courtroom.
- Do turn off your cell phone.
- Do speak loudly and clearly enough to be heard by the judge and opposing party.
- Do ask the questioner to repeat or clarify any questions that you do not understand.
- Do direct your answers to the person who asked the question. Make eye contact with them.
- Do make sure that you are polite to courtroom staff, clerk, judicial marshal, and others.
- Don't chew gum
- Don't read the newspaper, listen to your iPod, work on your laptop, or talk to other people while waiting in the courtroom.
- Don't make faces, roll your eyes, or otherwise show negative reactions to something happening in the courtroom.
- Don't argue with the opposing party or his/her attorney.
- Don't interrupt.
- Don't react to the answer of witnesses or to the questions from the opposing party to display your displeasure.
When speaking with the Judge
Please refer to him/her as "Your Honor" and speak with respect. Do not act angry or short-tempered with the judge, even if you are upset by your case.
Who will be in the courtroom?
Your case may be in a public courtroom. While you wait for your case, you will be able to sit in the back of the courtroom and view other cases while you wait for your case to be heard or called. It also means that others waiting for their cases will be able to view your case. The judge and court clerk will be in the courtroom as well. A judicial court officer will be in the courtroom to keep the order. It is also possible that a court reporter or court clerk will be recording the cases.
What if you cannot get there on time?
Every effort should be made to get to court on time. Arrange in advance for childcare and reliable transportation. If you cannot arrive on time, please call and ask the clerk what can be done. It will be up to the court to decide if you can have your case heard on another day.
If you are aware in advance that you cannot attend your hearing, immediately call the clerk's office and ask how to request a "continuance". A continuance request will need to be submitted in writing.
Bail is a sum of money or property deposited by a person (or by that person's family or friends) to assure that accused person comes to court as required. It is not a fine, but it will be forfeited if the person does not appear at court. Bail may be set by a Bail Commissioner who may charge a non-refundable fee as part of the bail setting process. The initial setting and collection of bail is done at the jail where a person is being held after arrest. If you have questions about a specific bail situation, you should contact an attorney and/or the jail. The Maine Department of Corrections maintains a list of the county jails at this link http://www.maine.gov/corrections/faq/jails.shtml.
Besides the judge, you will see other court staff working in the office and the courtroom.
A judicial marshal is an officer assigned to ensure security of the courthouse, courtroom, judge, and court staff. He or she is usually the first person you talk to when you enter the courtroom. Judicial marshals have various functions in the courtroom. However, their primary job is to maintain order. This means anything from asking people to stop talking while in the courtroom to physically subduing people who become violent.
The court clerk is responsible for the management of the court's paperwork. Before court begins, the clerk will give the judge all of the court files needed for the day. When court is in session, the clerk administers the oath to all witnesses, hands documents and exhibits to the judge, and generally serves as the judge's clerical assistant.
A court reporter records everything that is said in the courtroom during a session. A silent recording machine maybe used for this. The court clerk may also use a tape recorder to record the proceedings. After the hearing is completed, an attorney or a party may request that the recording be transcribed. There is a fee required to transcribe a recording.
Magistrates preside over family law cases in the District Court.
If your case involves a dispute between you and another person, you may be required to participate in a discussion with a mediator in attempt to settle the dispute without going in front of a judge. Mediations take place in family law, real estate foreclosure, evictions, and small claims cases.
Court proceeding at trial or hearing
When the docket is called, the judge simply calls each case in the order in which they were set. The purpose of a docket call is to enable the judge to determine how many cases are ready to be heard. This information helps the judge plan the sequence of the hearings.
During the call there may be cases that are not ready to be heard because the attorneys are still negotiating the case. If this happens, the judge will call the case later in the morning. When the call is completed, the judge will have a list of cases that are ready to be heard, cases that need further negotiations, or cases that have been continued or dismissed.
When the judge calls your case, both the attorney and the parties step forward and take their places at the counsel table. The attorneys sit on the inside chairs and the client sit in the chairs at the opposite end of the table. The attorneys will then state their names for the record.
Administering an oath
The clerk may be asked by the judge to administer an oath to the parties or witnesses before they testify. In some cases, the judge will administer the oath. You should be aware that your testimony is being given under penalty of perjury. This means that you can be charged with a crime if you knowingly tell a lie when you testify.
- Always remember the Four Ps: Professionalism-Punctuality-Politeness-Preparation
- Be sure to provide the court with changes to your address and/or phone number.
- Respond to court notices and correspondence as soon as possible