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Becca C.
01-20-2011, 07:40 PM
In my YA, there's a scene that takes place in a courtroom. It's brief, with hardly any action (it's at the end) and it's YA so it doesn't have to be uber-complicated, but I want it to be accurate. It's in the US, and the case is one of suing-counter suing (i.e., not criminal). The defendant and the plaintiff are celebrities and would draw a crowd outside the courthouse. Would this trial be held in a regular courtroom or a small private room with just lawyers, no media? Or is it up to me?

milly
01-20-2011, 07:47 PM
if it is a jury trial it would be in a courtroom but, if it is a bench trial (with a judge only) then it could be in a courtroom or it might simply be in chambers with the judge

whether it is a jury trial would likely depend on the type of civil suit you are referring to...if it's a negligence case of some sort, definitely jury..if it's a contract dispute or real estate matter, divorce, family issues, etc...likely a judge would decide

It really is up to you on the size of the courtroom as those vary widely across the United States and within an individual state as well

:)

alleycat
01-20-2011, 07:52 PM
I'm not an attorney, and have only limited knowledge of civil trials (but have been on the jury in a few criminal trials) . . .

If there was an actual trial it would be held in a courtroom. However, there is usually a LOT of preliminary work with just lawyers and witnesses (taking depositions, etc.). I'm been just such a witness a couple of times; if you want more information on what it's like to have to give a deposition, let me know.

One of our attorney members here can tell you more.

milly
01-20-2011, 07:57 PM
even if it is an actual trial but is not a jury trial, it could be held in judge's chambers and NOT in the courtroom...and, even hearings on preliminary matters are often held in courtrooms vs. judge's chambers...so, for most of this, as an author you can make it what you like

just don't have a jury trial that's NOT in a courtroom...that won't fly

:)

Becca C.
01-20-2011, 08:12 PM
I didn't mention a jury, but honestly the MC is walking into a room and seeing her parents there for the first time in four years - and they're on opposite sides of the battle. So she's not super aware of the room in general. The charges are also pretty vague: emotional damages and accusations of abuse from her, defamation and breach of contract from the parents. It sounds like it could go either way.

PinkAmy
01-20-2011, 08:51 PM
It's likely that your MC will have seen her parents in depositions and other court hearings before the time the case actually gets to court. In a civil case, damages have to be quantifiable. If there are "emotional damages"- the plaintiff needs to prove not only that the damages occurred, but that there were financial consequences to those damages. I can't sue people for being mean to me, but if their actions caused or contributed to a suicide attempt that forced me to have be fired from my job (and that I didn't have a psychiatric condition that could account for the attempt)- I could sue for the loss of income. If I won the case, the jury or judge (depending on the state statutes) could impose pain and suffering in addition to the loss of income). There wouldn't be pain and suffering alone, if there were no financial consequences. Additionally, anyone can try to sue anyone else for anything--the question is will the case be thrown out of court. If the defendants don't have the money to pay for damages, a lawyer isn't going to take the case, since most civil suits are filed on a contingency basis.

milly
01-20-2011, 08:54 PM
If the defendants don't have the money to pay for damages, a lawyer isn't going to take the case, since most civil suits are filed on a contingency basis.


this is a sad but true statement of the civil system...unless you find an attorney who REALLY needs the pro bono work or is simply in it for principle (which there are fewer and fewer of us out there anymore)

:)

PinkAmy
01-20-2011, 09:55 PM
this is a sad but true statement of the civil system...unless you find an attorney who REALLY needs the pro bono work or is simply in it for principle (which there are fewer and fewer of us out there anymore)

:)
I became blind in one eye after cataract surgery. I contracted a condition that comes from improperly sterilized instruments. I need a cornea transplant. Aside from being a pain in the ass and causing me a ton of stress, I wanted some compensation. I contacted a few lawyers who told me unless I was permanently blind, I didn't have a case worth pursuing because the damage could be corrected (even if it caused me pain and inconvenience). My eye is improving, but it's still like seeing through waxed paper. I find out next month if I get the transplant or keep waiting. The lawyers said the malpractice attorneys would never settle until the eve of a trial (if they decided to settle) because they have tons of resources so trying to sue would be cost prohibitive.

I realize the case in question for the MC isn't malpractice, but I have been involved in another civil case so I know a little more than I want to about the civil court system.

Becca C.
01-21-2011, 01:03 AM
This is super interesting, guys. I've taken a few law courses but I'm in Canada so it's really different. The scene in question is a deposition of sorts (MC has a victim impact statement prepared) and that's where she's seeing the parents. The outcome of the case isn't important so this doesn't have to be the final trial. Does it sound plausible enough? It doesn't have to be detailed, I mean, the scene ends as soon as she walks in the room and sees them.

alleycat
01-21-2011, 01:07 AM
Again, I'm no expert, but that sounds more like a preliminary hearing.

I think depositions usually just involve the lawyers from both sides, and the witness who is being deposed.

Becca C.
01-21-2011, 01:31 AM
Okay. It's not tooooo big of a deal, anyway. Just as long as there are no glaring inaccuracies!

jclarkdawe
01-21-2011, 04:52 AM
Sometimes telling us what the plot needs is better than saying what you're doing. Because sometimes we can offer a better way from here to there.

Near as I can tell, you want a situation in a courtroom where one character meets her parents after four years without seeing them, where one is suing the other. But I'm not sure who's suing who here.

However, what you want for a court hearing would seem likely to be a Motion for Summary Judgment. A Motion for Summary Judgment presents the argument that one side, even if all the facts go in their favor, don't have a legal case. For example, Alphonse the Squirrel sues Rocky the Rat for stealing his nuts on 1 April. Rocky responds that not only did he not steal the nuts, he was residing in the State's Hilton Hotel (bracelets provided, but no mints on the pillow) for the period, a fact well known to Alphonse since Alphonse visited him there. Since there is only one version of the facts, (Rocky was locked up which is a perfect defense) there is no way Alphonse can win.

Although a Motion for Summary Judgment is usually filed later in the litigation, it can be filed immediately, based upon the pleadings in the case. The Motion is supported by affidavits (statements made under oath), Filed immediately into the lawsuit, this could very well be the first time the parties meet.

This type of case would never be done in chambers. Either one party or both are at some level nutso, and judges like some protection (like the bench) when bodies start flying around the courtroom.

Now going back to your original question, the courtroom would be open to the public. However, judge's can control the public aspect to maintain decorum. Further, a courthouse in California is used to the problems and knows how to limit the damage. But if your characters are at all famous, yeah, you're going to have some level of a zoo.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

PinkAmy
01-21-2011, 04:47 PM
The defendant and plaintiff have a right to be at depositions, which are usually done in lawyer's offices, not courts. The media would likely have no idea a deposition was taking place. Court reporters are the court folks present, no judge. Lawyers run the depositions, and there are no formal "objections", although lawyers can direct witnesses not to answer the questions. I've been questioned and observed deposition questioning. Plaintiffs and defendants don't usually have to attend preliminary hearings, unless their lawyers or the judge insists. Sometimes the lawyers want their clients there for showmanship. Sometimes the judge wants them to be present because one particular side is noncompliant or difficult--particularly if one side has previously ignored her orders.
Victim impact statements only occur in sentencing for criminal courts, not for civil courts. There is leeway in how a lawyer questions her own clients, but the victim isn't allowed to make a general impact statement. She has to be answering questions. The opposing counsel can object if the person's response to a question veers off course or becomes a rambling, self serving statement.

Becca C.
01-22-2011, 04:17 AM
Thanks everybody! I'm sure there would be a point, though, where the victim would need an explanation of the damage done against her (her case against them includes physical, mental, and emotional abuse). Maybe it should be a criminal case, then.

Technicalities aside, it is a very short scene with just a couple lines of explaining what's going on legally. Truly it's not very important.

PinkAmy
01-22-2011, 02:32 PM
I think you'd be better off doing a criminal case. Civil cases seek financial compensation and if she's the celeb, she's probably the one with the money. She would need physical or eyewitness evidence (doctor's reports showing physical damage etc) for whatever she alleged happened to her--her word alone isn't considered evidence. She could get a therapist's testimony, only that's often taken as subjective and not fact. For instance, a diagnosis isn't evidence. Also, if her therapist testified, she would be subjected to "independent" evaluation from her parents' therapists--and finding a forensic psychiatrist to give an opinion based on who's paying isn't that difficult (unfortunately. they're called professional whores).

alleycat
01-22-2011, 02:44 PM
Technicalities aside, it is a very short scene with just a couple lines of explaining what's going on legally. Truly it's not very important.
In that case, I would just have all the parties involved meeting at one of the attorney's office (before the trial, or possibly before any lawsuit is actually filed--lawyers would typically want to try to reach a settlement without a trial). I believe that would get you to where you want to go. They would probably meet in a large conference room, and that would supply the element of surprise as the two parties see each other for the first time.

If you want to complicate the scene a bit with media attention, you could have the media waiting as the characters arrive or leaves (the media could either have been tipped off, or the paparazzi typically follows the MC wherever she goes). But if this is just a small scene you might not want to even do that.