Efficiency Guidelines

If you’ve been bar mitzvahed, should you get some respect? Why should you wait until you’re 14 before being addressed as “Mr.” or “Ms.”? I ask these questions because of an odd sentence that appeared last week in a ruling from a federal judge in Los Angeles: “Do not address witnesses over age 14 by their first names.” Thirteen-year-olds are fair game.

It’s a bit of a mystery as to what brought on this pronouncement. I don’t know exactly what the lawsuit is about, but it appears to be a couple suing a car company. Unless Mercedes are being designed by teenagers, I can’t imagine this rule is going to be a problem.

The lawyers, however, might be teenagers. If they aren’t, the judge seems to be treating them that way, because the ruling goes on at some length about the rules they need to follow to avoid being scolded.

There appears to be good reason for this. According to the ruling, the plaintiff’s lawyer said the case was only worth about $60,000 “and doesn’t involve matters of public policy.” Despite this, “the parties filed 18 motions in limine, as well as requests for judicial notice, an exhibit list with 97 exhibits, a witness list with 31 exhibits, and numerous, boilerplate evidentiary objections. Many of these filings were excessive and unhelpful.”

You can see why the poor judge was hoping some kids would show up to liven things up.

The result of all this was a detailed set of rules and a tight schedule for the trial. This is a great idea for any judge confronted with sloppy, long-winded lawyers. You might want to use this ruling as a template.

There are some terrific guidelines here that you may not have thought of.

For example: “If a party runs out of witnesses, the Court may deem the party has rested.” You’ve got to hate it when a lawyer just stands there in front of you without anyone to talk to.

And this: “When a party thinks an exhibit is admissible and should be admitted, that party should move for its admission.” They might not have thought of that.

There is, of course, room for creativity when it comes to making trials more efficient. I don’t want to spoil the fun for you judges out there, but I do have a few suggestions to get you started.

Present all motions on Etch-a-Sketches so that the court can obliterate them quickly and efficiently. This will not only incentivize lawyers to avoid lengthy treatises likely to enrage the court, but will also place a premium on careful, legible handwriting.

Work turned in late by plaintiff attorneys will result in a 10 percent reduction of verdict. If the late work is turned in by the defense, the verdict will be increased by 10 percent. If both sides miss deadlines, you will all stay after court. Depending on the severity of infractions, the court may also decide to impose laps.

Examine at least three witnesses on the stand at once. This works for talk shows because it keeps the conversation lively. It also allows witnesses presented with the same questions the opportunity to corroborate or contradict each other immediately. On cross-examination, the opposing side can bring in more witnesses as long as everyone is provided with name tags.

Any brief exceeding 10 pages in length must be accompanied by cartoons. Everyone benefits if the court is entertained. You may also consider a brief/wine pairing.

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