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Saturday, December 22, 2012

"Ask the Judge" Column continues in La Prensa of SA, 12-23

Ask the Judge: Legal advice you won’t get in Court
By Judge Steve Walker

It is not unusual for defendants or plaintiffs, once their case is heard to ask the Judge, “What do I do now?”

Unfortunately as the Judge I am not allowed to answer that question and many others because it would be considered “legal advice.” By doing so I would in essence be acting as your lawyer. Sitting on the bench I cannot act as a judge and an attorney at the same time. It is called “conflict of interest.”

Normally I answer, “You need to consult an attorney.” Another option is to appeal the decision if it does not go your way. Some bureaucratic questions as far as filing out additional paperwork can be easily answered by the court clerk in the courtroom or the clerks behind the booths out in the lobby area once you leave the courtroom.

However in this column I can share some helpful “suggestions” with the reader that I am not allowed to express when I am in the courtroom and sitting on the bench.

One of the common questions I hear in traffic court when a defendant decides at the last minute to change their plea from no contest or guilty to not guilty and request a trial is, “Should I pick a judge to hear my case or pick a jury?” To that I cannot respond. The defendant must decide whether they wish for a judge or a six person jury to decide their fate.

Remember when you pick a jury to decide your guilt on a traffic ticket at a later date, during the sitting of that jury, the Assistant District Attorney asks the potential jurors the question, “How many here today have ever received a traffic ticket in their life? Usually most of those seated raise their hand, including the attorney and even the Judge.

The Assistant District Attorney also asks many other questions of the potential jurors to include how they feel about deciding the guilt or innocence of the defendant or how many of them went ahead and paid their traffic tickets. The looks on many of the juror’s faces are somewhat telling and may or may not be in the best interest of the defendant.

Picking a judge is usually more expedient and normally the judge has more leeway in determining a fine should the defendant be found guilty. You decide.

Being knowledgeable beforehand will also make the process go much quicker for a better result. 

Lastly as always, if you are due in court, be sure to show up to court on time. It is in everyone’s best interest.

Justice of the Peace, Pct. 2 Steve Walker is a Vietnam Veteran and a former Journalist.

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