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Robert's Rules of Order famously provides widely accepted guidelines for conducting formal meetings.

Is there an analog for conduct that applies generally or specifically to open sessions of judicial courts?

For example, the Federal Courts provide very detailed rules of procedure, but I can't find anything that covers conduct by admitted parties during a hearing. If Hollywood is to be believed, counselors can interrupt almost anything by shouting, "Objection!" at which point everything else is put on hold while they are allowed to state their objection.

But what if a party to the proceedings who does not "have the floor" wishes to do things like the following:

  1. Obtain a restatement (perhaps because it was unintelligible, or perhaps as a ploy for emphasis) of something uttered by another.
  2. Obtain clarification of a statement.
  3. Determine or clarify the purpose of an ongoing statement or line of questioning
  4. Determine whether the judge will allow something later in the proceedings. (E.g., "At some point I hope to speak to point X. May I do that now? Or will I be afforded that opportunity at some later point before the conclusion of this hearing?")

(Under Robert's Rules all of these scenarios are covered without recognition by the president as points of order, information, personal privilege, parliamentary inquiry, tabling, taking from the table, reconsidering, appealing, etc. Robert's Rules also make it clear how any such interruption can be addressed and disposed.)

  • I have learned that a standard textbook on this subject is West's Courtroom Evidence Handbook. This illuminates only the Federal Rules of Evidence. Interestingly, it lists 93 "model objections" that can be made based on those rules. – feetwet Feb 4 '18 at 20:05
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The main rules in a civil case are the rules of evidence, the rules of civil procedure, and a set of largely unwritten rules governing issues such as the order in which matters are presented in a trial and courtroom conduct. Basically, the rules of evidence are really a subset of a larger set of written and unwritten rules about courtroom conduct the unwritten parts of which are assumed to be known by people using them.

Robert's Rules of Order do not apply to courtroom proceedings.

The judge also has the "direct contempt" power to summarily punish disrespectful conduct in the courtroom without a trial, with fines or incarceration, even if it wouldn't be a crime outside the courtroom.

But what if a party to the proceedings who does not "have the floor" wishes to do things like the following:

Obtain a restatement (perhaps because it was unintelligible, or perhaps as a ploy for emphasis) of something uttered by another.

If you are a party asking a question (or more likely an attorney for a party asking a question on behalf of a party) it is not improper to say, "I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you." It is also not generally improper for a non-questioning party to interject and state that they can't hear a witness to a judge.

Obtain clarification of a statement.

This can be done by a party only when it is the party's turn to cross-examine or redirect as the case may be. A judge can ask for clarification, but a party cannot do so when it is not their turn.

Determine or clarify the purpose of an ongoing statement or line of questioning

Generally the party not asking a question objects and the court asks the party asking the question to clarify the reason. Sometimes, in a jury trial, the party asked to clarify will say "may we approach the bench" and a private discussion will be held between counsel for both sides and the judge regarding an ongoing issue.

Determine whether the judge will allow something later in the proceedings. (E.g., "At some point I hope to speak to point X. May I do that now? Or will I be afforded that opportunity at some later point before the conclusion of this hearing?")

Lawyers are expected to know this for the most part without having to ask. Also, usually before the court starts to take evidence, and at breaks, the judge will ask "are there any preliminary matters that need to be addressed?" or "are there any procedural matters that need to be addressed?" and questions such as this can be raised at that time.

  • If a juror can't hear a witness (or can't read an exhibit or similar), I assume they can also speak up about it on the spot? – cpast Oct 24 '17 at 1:00
  • @cpast Usually not. Some states, like Colorado, allow jurors to speak up after a series of questions is complete, and if counsel sees that the jury appears to be confused, the counsel could bring it up, but usually a jury cannot interject without express leave of the judge to do so. – ohwilleke Oct 24 '17 at 3:43
  • If the jury didn't hear the responses to the questions, how would you handle that after the fact? Would you ask the questions again? Have the court reporter read them back? Something else? (I mean, ultimately the whole point of witnesses is that the jury hears what they have to say...) – cpast Oct 24 '17 at 4:08
  • @cpast I certainly am not saying that this practice is a good one, just that it is common to the point of being predominant. Juries often fail to follow what is going on in a trial and misunderstand or fail to grasp things with some regularity, often leading to errors. – ohwilleke Oct 24 '17 at 14:11
  • local.theonion.com/… – ohwilleke Oct 24 '17 at 14:29

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