Explaining the Judicial Process
Ask Judge Smith
By Layne Smith
Special to the Outlook
Last October was a month of reflection for me. I have been a member of the Florida Bar for 30 years and during that time I have learned as many important lessons from my failures and shortcomings as I have from my successes.
My life experiences include hard-learned lessons that have shaped my character and nurtured my empathy for others. Each day I am humbled by my job and my responsibilities. Thank you for the opportunity to serve you.
Much of my time in court is spent making sure people understand their legal rights, the legal criteria involved, and the purpose of the hearing. In my experience, many people are nervous about being in court, baffled by the process, and too timid to speak up and ask questions.
I hope you’re not in a position where you find yourself in my courtroom, but if we do cross paths, I want you to know as much as possible about the process.
My goal through this column to answer some of the more common questions I receive and help raise your legal intelligence. This is the first in a series of columns which, over time, will cover civics, history, the constitution, criminal law, civil law, and legal procedure. We’re going to focus on the big picture about legal concepts and procedure.
Because what interests you matters most, suggest topics and pose questions by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org, but please understand that some limitations apply. Judges must remain fair, impartial and removed from politics.
I will follow the Code of Judicial Conduct and will not provide legal advice, answer hypothetical questions, or express any opinions about what the state’s public policy should be.
I will not answer questions about pending cases or tell you how I would rule on issues likely to come before me or another judge. Please don’t ask me how to get out of jury service. Rather, ask me to explain things about civics, our government or the law.
Here are some example questions I plan to address:
-What is an arraignment?
-Can the winning party recover attorney’s fees from the loser?
-What is the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor?
-Which court decides landlord-tenant eviction actions?
-What is due process of law?
I’m looking forward to hearing from you and hopefully making our state courts less mysterious and more accessible. We will talk again in two weeks.
This article was first published in the Tallahassee Democrat.
J. Layne Smith is a Leon County Judge who handles a wide variety of criminal and civil cases. He often speaks and writes about civics, the law, our legal system and the administration of justice.