Ask a Mentor: Your Role in Court Hearings

Volunteer Question

I know I may sound foolish saying this, but I feel rather useless when I'm in court. I just stand there next to the attorney and volunteer supervisor and don't say anything. The attorney does the talking and the volunteer supervisor takes notes. In the end, I leave wondering what good it did for me to be there.

Mentor Answer

I should probably tell you to talk with your volunteer supervisor and the attorney, but I have a feeling you want to know what another volunteer thinks about being in court. I am going to talk about my experiences, but then you may still need to talk to the volunteer supervisor and the attorney with whom you are currently working.

I've been in court more times than I can count and there are times I leave feeling as you have described—but only for a few seconds. I then remind myself that by being present, I have heard firsthand what transpired and will not have to rely on secondhand information about court events affecting my child or children. I also remind myself that I am present in case something comes up about which I have information.

In one court hearing, during the exchange among the parties in a case being closed with the children placed with the mother, it occurred to me that I needed to assure the judge (there was no report for the hearing) that I had spoken to each child individually and that this was what they wanted. I whispered this to the attorney and she asked the judge to let me speak.

If you know in advance of something you wish to say directly to the judge—and not through the attorney—speak with the attorney about it prior to the case being heard. Judges and courts vary. Some judges want to hear from the guardian in most of the hearings. Prepare in advance what you think might be important to contribute or a specific point from your report that needs to be emphasized. Check with your attorney to find out whether they want to know in advance what you will be saying. You will certainly want to be present if your child comes to court. If the child wants to speak with the judge in chambers, you will be the one to go with the child.

Although you may not speak in court, it is your responsibility to provide via your volunteer supervisor important points for the attorney to have in mind when your case is called. This will be particularly important if it is a hearing for which you have not provided a report.

All in all, your role in court hearings—regardless of whether you actually speak—is critical.

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