Each courtroom is set up a little differently and each judge runs his/her courtroom a little differently. It is helpful to go to court and sit in and listen to what is happening in various courtrooms. Almost all court hearings are open to the public. You can sit and listen to what is happening in the courtroom.
Clerk: assists the judge, has information on the court hearings, will run errands for the judge, usually the one to swear in the witnesses Judge.
Court reporter: types or writes down everything that is said "on the record", usually all of the witness testimony and what the lawyers and judges say during the court hearings. The court reporter may ask a witness to spell their names or restate things which the court reporter did not hear.
Witness stand: After a witness is sworn to tell the truth, they usually will sit in the witness stand to testify. Sometimes the judge will just have the witness stand in front of the judge or may have them answer a question while they are standing in the galley.
Bench: This is where the judge sits. During court hearings, the judge will sometimes ask attorneys or others to approach the bench. That means the people are to go to the desk where the judge is sitting.
Table: Attorneys for whatever case is currently having a hearing will usually sit at the table. Some defense attorneys will stand with the defendant in front of the judge. People who are assisting the attorneys will also sit at the tables. This can include law clerks, advocates, probation officers. The parties in a civil case will also sit at the tables with their attorney. In a criminal case, the victim usually does not sit at the table.
Jury box: When there is a trial, the jurors will sit in these seats. In some courtrooms, the jury box is used as extra seating for attorneys, defendants, court personnel during hearings.
Sheriff: There is usually a sheriff deputy present in the courtroom. They are there for security reasons. They will bring people from jail to the courtroom. Sometimes the sheriff deputy will check people in for their court hearings.
Galley: There is usually a railing or divider of some type between the front of the courtroom and the area where the general public can sit. The area where the general public sits is called the galley.
Stand when the judge enters the courtroom. Sit down when the judge or clerk tells you to.
Call the judge or referee "your honor" or "your honor Judge _____".
Never interrupt the judge. If something needs to be clarified or challenged, wait until the judge or other person finishes talking. Stop speaking instantly if the judge interrupts you.
Be on time for each hearing. The court hearings are often late in starting but the one time you are late, court will start on time.
Most courtrooms have signs listing the courtroom rules. For example, no food or drinks, no hats, no gum chewing, no talking.
Some courtrooms will have metal detectors or will do searches of people coming into hearings. This is usually done when there is a particular safety concern. If there are searches of people, each person coming into the courtroom will be searched as well as any bags or packages which the person carries in.
It is difficult to have young children in the courtroom. Some judges will tell you to take the children out of the courtroom if they are talking or running about in the courtroom. Most courthouses have no place for children.
To find out if you are in the right courtroom or to get information about what kind of hearing is scheduled or if the defendant is in jail, you should talk to either the sheriff deputy or the clerk. If there is no one in the courtroom, go to a general information desk or go to the criminal or civil division (depending on what type of hearing it is) and talk to a clerk.
To get information about what specifically will happen at the hearing, you should talk to the attorney on the case. If you are with a battered woman who is criminally charged, you should talk with the defense attorney. If you are with a battered woman whose abuser is appearing in court, talk to the county or city attorney. If you are in court on a probation violation matter, talk to either the county or city attorney or the probation officer.
Do not be afraid to ask questions.
A judge's office is called chambers. Many things happen in chambers. Often times negotiations happen in chambers. The general public can not go into chambers. What happens in chambers is not usually public information; it is not usually recorded. If you and/or the battered woman want to be part of anything that is happening back in chambers, you should talk with the attorney. If an attorney invites you to come back into chambers, usually no one will object. Sometimes the attorney will only let the advocate come back into chambers and will ask the battered woman to wait in the courtroom. If the attorney refuses to let you come back into chambers, ask the judge directly. It is ultimately the judge's decision whether or not you can be in chambers.
Advocates do not have any defined role in courtroom hearings. Sometimes attorneys or judges will ask advocates questions directly during hearings. If an advocate has information which you want to get into a court hearing, first try to give the information to the attorney to present in court. It is best to give the attorney the information in writing. Things happen quickly in court hearings and attorneys are better able to remember information when it is written down. You should also talk with the attorney. If the attorney will not raise the information, you should try to directly talk to the judge. If you know before the hearing that the attorney will not present the information which you have, you can talk to the clerk and let the clerk know that you have information on the case and want to have a chance to present the information to the judge. If you don't know until the hearing is happening that the attorney is not going to present your information, you should try to approach the table area and say "Your honor, I am an advocate with ____________, and I have additional (or different) information." The judge may order you to sit down. But the judge may ask you to approach the bench with the attorneys or may ask you questions.