Thursday, December 10, 2009

Best of Kest

In spite of an earlier disastrous injunction, Judge Sally Kest's manner of conducting injunction hearings has not improved. With several new volunteers doing their "on the job" courthouse training, I've had several opportunities to observe Judge Kest this week.

Click here to view what CourtWatch looks for when monitoring an injunction hearing.

Disclaimer: The written word inherently has its limitations when one tries to convey another person's demeanor and tone of voice. However, I'll give it my best shot.

The new volunteers, none of whom had observed an injunction hearing before today, thought that Judge Kest was rude and condescending to both petitioners and respondents - particularly when they failed to grasp what the proper protocol is for testifying, eliciting testimony from witnesses or the other party, or for introducing evidence. They were astounded that the judge resorted to raising her voice (some called it yelling) in order to command attention. Some remarked that she frequently interrupted when someone attempted to answer her question. She rolled her eyes and was impatient.

In addition to the above, there were several issues (from these hearings and from previous weeks) that CourtWatch believes are indicative of an immediate need for correction:
  • Failing to "set the stage" for explaining the process to the participants.
    [Another judge, after explaining the process and assuring the Respondent that issues of child visitation and the return of personal property will be addressed, frequently avoids an evidentiary hearing because the Respondent doesn't object to the injunction]
  • Expecting the participants to understand what hearsay testimony is and why it is not admissable - and then yelling at them after they've been told they can't testify about what someone else told them
  • Calling witnesses into the courtroom before the parties have laid any foundation for their testimony
  • Expecting the participants to ask questions of the other party that will get to the heart of whether or not their situation meets the legal requirements for an injunction
    [All communication should be between the judge and the parties - they should not be permitted to directly address one another. Additionally, the judge should not expect them to know what elements need to be proven - she should ask the questions]
  • Frequently specifying an agreed upon McDonalds or other restaurant for the exchange of children
    [I wonder how thrilled McDonalds' attorneys are about the potential liability if an "incident" occurs]
  • Failing to designate a third party to serve as go-between for child-related communications
  • Sometimes permitting direct contact via text/email between parties if it relates to children
  • Failing to set up visitation schedules and/or temporary child support
  • Interrupting people when they attempt to answer questions she has asked
  • Interrupting the interpreter when he/she is attempting to do their job
  • Lapsing into "legalese" which most participants do not understand
Injunction hearings, because the parties have a great deal of "baggage" with one another, are without a doubt one of the most challenging hearings to conduct. It is not unusual for people to want to tell the entire tale of their relationship, going back to the day they met. They are wounded and they come to the courthouse seeking a cure to their situation.

Many are terrified to be in the same vicinity of the person against whom they've sought an injunction. They shouldn't have to be terrified of going before a judge. For some, I suspect that being in Judge Kest's courtroom rises to the level of traumatic.

Imagine for a moment if the judge who was hearing your case raised their voice and said "This is a court of law . . . rules apply . . . does everybody understand that?!?!?" I imagine it feels like you've stepped into the middle of a football field without ever having seen the game before or been told how it's played, been given the ball, and told to run (and then getting tackled when you try to do what you're told).

Or imagine, as you try to answer a question posed by the judge with a loud and sharp tone, being interrupted with "Ma'am. . .  ma'am" or "Sir . . . sir" and then being admonished about the fact that there are these "rules." The judge then refuses to listen to your reply because you don't abide by the "rules" that you've never been taught.

If Judge Kest treated the parties with more respect and took 2-3 minutes at the beginning of a hearing to coach everyone about the "rules," I daresay the process would be much less painful for everyone in the courtroom.

8 comments:

  1. Isn't the "groundwork" provided in a video prior to the parties going into the courtroom? I believe it is in Orange County. And if the parties choose to ignore those rules, what should the judge do?

    Another question I have is what do you all do when it becomes apparent that a petitioner is lying to further a cause i.e. child custody? Do you out them????

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  3. The video that plays in the waiting area does provide valuable information to the parties. However, I have walked into the Petitioner's waiting room on several occasions and seen a talk show or the Food Network on the TV.

    Even if the parties ignore the rules (assuming they've been conveyed), the judge should not yell at them. They should be respectfully explained a second time.

    Additionally, when you're anticipating your case being called, the #1 thing that your attention is focused on is trying to remember what you want to say. It is such a high stress situation that one's attention to the video is not complete.

    Finally, with respect to whether or not a party is lying, CourtWatchers only know the details that are testified about in court. We do not review the petitions or any previous case files between the parties. We do not have all the information that is available to the judge at the time of the hearing and therefore do not advocate for either party in that manner.

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  4. We could have substituted names from Seminole County judges in place of Judge Kest. For both petitioner and respondent, but especiallly for the petitioner, it must feel like an amateur untrained tennis player in a tournament with pros. The balls just keep flying by you, fouls keep getting called, but you do not understand how to respond.

    Some training should be offered and repeated long before they reach the courtroom.

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  5. I've sat in on many hearings and trials and have observed consummate, professional judges. Kest falls short on her abilities to supervise a courtroom. Her inability to understand that the common person is not a lawyer, her impatience and basic lack of respect for the petitioner and respondent is deplorable. Perhaps it's time to give up the bench and find a more suitable profession...like court clerk or meter maid.

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  6. I just had my case heard by Judge Kest. I have an injunction against my daughter's father who tormented me and my son(not his son). Since my daughter was born this man had more interest in serving as a baseball coach than to be a father. Only when I left and began a new relationship did he decide he wanted to play daddy. Long story short, he has delayed the whole process and after being found in contempt twice for not complying with discover and the week before trial, he wanted to settle. I had already paid $3000 in attorneys fees so I decided for trial. She was very nasty to my attorney from the start, allowed my ex to interrogate me like I was a criminal and wound up giving him 40% visitation, he is responsible for only 20% of her support, calculated his support on unemployment rates when he is now working and making much more and is even allowed to file her on taxes every other year. I am sick to my stomach. She did not want to hear anything my attorney had to say.

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    1. Someone removed my post I entered last week on Judge Sally Kest. This particular judge is not looking closely at the facts when rendering a ruling. All her rulings should be reviewed by the judicial committee. She is placing some children in harms way by not adequately examining the court files.

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