Parenting in the Courtroom

Courtrooms are formal and stuffy places, right? Serious business goes on there and everyone is on their best behavior, aren’t they? Would anyone act inappropriately?

The answer to each of those questions is “You’d be surprised.”

I’ve been a judge for 17 1/2 years, and so many of the people who enter my courtroom are models of professionalism and good citizenship. They are the ones who make my job easier, a pleasure in fact. There have been a few notable exceptions, though, and those are the times when my skills are put to the test.

Which skills, you might ask? Not my legal skills. No, it’s my parenting skills I’m talking about.

It’s Impolite to be Impolite

Years ago I had a man making his first appearance on a case. He was in custody and when I called his name the bailiff brought him forward, handcuffed and wearing a jail jumpsuit. He sounded fairly articulate and I asked if he could afford an attorney. When he told me no, I offered to appoint the Public Defender for him. He said, “Sure, whatever falls off the dump truck.”

“Sir,” I said, “we don’t disparage anyone in the courtroom.”

He immediately looked down, embarrassed. “Sorry, I didn’t mean any disrespect.”

It’s probably one of the most repeated lessons we teach our children: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Or as Peter puts it when quoting from Psalm 34 – “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.” (1 Peter 3:10.)

Waiting Your Turn

I’ve handled a few small claims cases along the way as well. No lawyers are allowed, and the people involved have little familiarity with courtrooms. I try to explain the process clearly but things can get a little out of hand at times. One side will be presenting their evidence and the other won’t be able to keep from blurting out something like, “That’s not true!” And then they proceed to give me their version, talking over one another.

So I stop them and point out that I can only hear from one side at a time, but they will get their chance and when they do I will make sure the other side does not interrupt them.

It’s like when our kids were younger and they’d play pin the tail on the donkey or have a piñata at their birthday parties: “One at a time … Everyone will get a turn … Don’t shove your way in front of the others.” And as Jesus taught – “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. (Luke 22:25-26.)

Inside Voices, Please

Occasionally even the attorneys who are in court every day can lose their cool. If one side thinks the other is taking an unfair position on a case, it can irk them. In worst cases their voices get louder, speech comes more rapidly and (dare I say it) someone sounds a bit whiny.

I will occasionally hold up my hand to stop them and say quietly, “Counsel, petulance is rarely a persuasive form of argument.” Sometimes they stop and look at me quizzically, trying to sort out the $20 words in that sentence. And it is usually just enough of a break to get them off their irked-ness and back on a more productive track.

Kids get frustrated easily and it comes across in louder and louder voices so that parents need to calm them down: “I can hear you better if you slow down and use your inside voice.” Paul says this about keeping a cool head – “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” (Romans 12:3.)

Time for Recess!

Judges can get out of hand as well. Whether it’s someone who is punching every button I’ve got and getting on my last nerve, or a trial that has exceeded its time estimate for the third time, or just fighting an ultra-nasty head cold that has me completely out of sorts, I know that I can skate to the edge of uncivil behavior myself (and I’ve even slid right over too).

That’s when I need to put myself on time-out. Happily I can do that. It’s called taking a recess.

That was our ultimate parenting tool in raising our kids, the time-out, and there’s no reason we can’t use it on ourselves. Jesus took time to himself: morning (Mark 1:35), noon (John 4), at night in a crowded storm-tossed boat (Luke 8:23). We can do the same.

The Ultimate Parent

Which brings me to the real point here: God is the ultimate parent, our loving heavenly Father. (Galatians 4:6-7.) I am so glad he never falters in raising me, his child, in the way he wants me to grow. (Philippians 1:6.) Even though I am now grown up, a parent with a responsible job, I am his child forever. (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17.)


When have parenting skills (whether you’re a parent or not) come in handy on your job or at school?

When have you seen God parent you?

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19 Responses to Parenting in the Courtroom

  1. Adriana says:

    “Counsel, petulance is rarely a persuasive form of argument.”
    Oh. I’m gonna use that on my kids! (Now, If I only had a gavel…)

    Great post, Tim. You preside over your comments section quite well too, I might add.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks Adriana. I’ll let you in on something too. The gavel’s just a showpiece. They teach us judges early on that if you have to use your gavel to get people’s attention then you’ve already lost control of the courtroom.

      • Adriana says:

        Tim, Once I used a water bottle as a sort of gavel. I shook it in the air and banged it on the table for emphasis. (pregnant, sleep deprived, ill w/ morning sickness) I didn’t realize the bottle didn’t have the lid on it and it had been refilled with apple juice! Juice flew to the ceiling, ran down the walls. It got all over the table and the floor. My children were stunned. (Though now they like to tease me about it — “Mom, do you remember the time you . . .”) It was rather humbling.

    • Yeah, I loved that remark too.

  2. Jeannie says:

    Very interesting post, Tim: great examples and Biblical links!

  3. Pingback: Parenting in the Courtroom | lifefromthelighthouse

  4. I love the humour and the lessons. As for the mirror: I must confess that the reminder for ‘inside voices’ is sometimes applicable to me.

  5. And, of course, always tell the truth. 🙂 Love this Tim!

  6. Ha! Amazing! It must get weary for you though. I vaguely remember being a barista at Starbucks and having to “parent” the customers in certain ways.

    God parents me every day. I see it mostly in His gentleness towards me. I think I see it so clearly because I’m absolutely steeped in parenting culture right now, and I am always thinking about the ways I care for my daughter and drawing parallels for how God cares for me.

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