Arguing to a judge

The Seattle PI of July 1, 2008has an article about the arguments in the federal trial by the City of Seattle against the Sonic basketball group. This is what it reports about an exchange between Judge Pechman and Paul Lawrence for the City:

Judge: Mr. Lawrence, answer my question

Lawrence: I’m trying to

Judge: Did the mayor ever call Mr. Bennett back and say let’s sit down, let’s talk about this and see what we can do?

Lawrence: The mayor…

Judge: I didn’t hear it (i.e. a straight answer to her question)

Lawrence: The mayor’s position has been consistent that he’s willing to talk about – the only thing he’s willing to talk about is something that would allow the Sonics to stay through the end of the lease and hopefully something future going forward. Since that was not adiscussion that Mr. Bennett was willing to have there was no discussion.

Judge: So, the answer to my question is no?

Lawrence: Not – the mayor was not wiling to sit down and discuss an early exit, correct

Judge: Let’s move on

Now, I ask you. Doesn’t that violate every rule ofargument to a judge? It sure reads to me like the lawyer was beingevasive like a hired expert instead of answering the question first and then qualifying. Instead, he deliberately dances around her question in such a way as to tell her he refuses to answer it directly, just as hired expert might do on cross examination. It seems to me the worst thing a lawyer can do in arguing a matter to a judge is to refuse to be responsive to a judge’s question. You know the proverb, "never insult the alligator until you are across the river" After all, this is a case tried to the judge without a jury. She is the last person you want to offend in final argument. At least, that’s how it looks to me, having not been there, from the report in the paper.

About Paul Luvera

Plaintiff trial lawyer for 50 years. Past President of the Inner Circle of Advocates & Washington State Trial Lawyers Association. Member American Board of Trial Advocates, American College of Trial Lawyers, International Academy, International Society of Barristers, member of the National Trial Lawyers Hall of Fame & speaker at Spence Trial College
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