I was reminded today of this quote as I watched a father carted off to serve a three day jail sentence after being found in summary contempt for basically misbehaving in court. The father was in court for a first appearance after having been charged with criminally assaulting and battering the mother of his children. As is typically the case, the father and the mother were also in court for a hearing on the mother's civil petition for a protective order. Instead of keeping his composure, the father took the opportunity to basically show his disrespect for the mother of his children and of the court by interrupting the judge and basically "talking back". Now, a criminal assault and battery charge and a court protective order are no laughing matters. By acting out, the father has already made an impression on the judge. The judge is human. He is going to remember dad's misbehavior in the future. This father is going to have to appear before the judge at the trial of the criminal charges, at a hearing on the final two year protective order, at a custody and visitation hearing, and a child support hearing. Why in the world would someone want to get off on the wrong foot with someone who is going to make multiple, very important decisions which could have significant impacts on that person's life?
What lessons should be learned from this father's mistakes? First, hire an attorney to represent you in the criminal and in the civil protective order proceedings, including the first appearance on the criminal charge and the initial hearing on the protective order. Your attorney will act as a buffer between you and the court. If you don't hire an attorney, then at a minimum mind your p's and q's. Essentially, you should not say anything until you hire an attorney. Respond to all questions with "Yes, sir or mam" or "No, sir or mam." Inform the court you wish to hire your own attorney or that you want court appointed counsel retained (KEEP IN MIND: you do not have a right to court appointed counsel for the protective order.) Then, stay quiet when your significant other testifies in the preliminary protective order proceeding...NO MATTER WHAT THEY SAY. Keep a poker face. Don't shake your head, stare at them, sigh, or stomp your feet. Don't grandstand by saying things like "that's okay, I don't want to have any contact with her anyhow." Don't laugh. I've seen this happen multiple times. MOST IMPORTANTLY, keep in mind that anything you say during the protective order proceeding can be used against you in the criminal proceedings. I have watched prosecuting attorneys take notes during ill-advised testimony at a protective order proceeding. They are paying attention!!!
The father in this case got off light on the jail sentence in my opinion. His misbehavior was pretty brazen. A charge of summary contempt carries with it a penalty of up to ten days in jail and/or a $250.00 fine. But, he won't get off lightly in the future. This father will have a hard time making up for his display in the upcoming legal proceedings. By keeping his composure at this first stage of the proceedings, he could have saved himself numerous future financial and emotional heartaches.