Georgia Lord Law
Three DeKalb Superior Court Judges, Gregory Adams, Mark Scott, and Clarence Seeliger. Kyla Lines participated in a panel discussion at the Family Law Section’s April meeting and facilitated the discussion. Those present were able to pick up some good advice.
What is the best advice you ever received?
Judge Adams: Be courteous and cooperative with other counsel.
Judge Scott: Take time to enjoy the experiences of each day and the people around you.
Judge Seeliger: Work hard for your clients, but maintain some emotional distance between yourself and them.
What are some of the biggest mistakes made by attorneys?
Judge Seeliger: Attorneys often allow clients to focus on airing their hurts or grievances rather than on the questions that have the greatest impact on the decision; it turns him off to hear one parent disparage the other.
Judge Adams: Some clients fail to listen to the question they are being asked on cross and instead just keep giving a prepared response.
Judge Scott: He can understand that it can be hard to prevent a client from making an argument they want to make, but the client needs to remember that some things that offend them may not offend the judge. The judge’s values and life experiences may well be different. Such questions can be explored in a pretrial conference in chambers.
Policies regarding attorneys’ withdrawal from cases?
Judge Scott: Look at this on a case by cases basis. He understands that it can be hard to make your best effort if you are not being paid, but finds that cases often settle after a motion to withdraw is denied.
Judge Seeliger: It depends on the status of the case and what the issues are at the point the request is made. If there is a custody issue that needs to be heard, he may not let you out; if the issues are child support and recovery he may.
Judge Adams: Attorneys should not count of being permitted to withdraw from a case. If you need more time before trial to collect your fee, talk to your client about the possibility of asking for a continuance rather than a withdrawal.
Policies regarding interim attorney fees?
Judge Adams: Willing to award fees, either interim or at the end of the case, because of the need to level the playing field.
Judge Scott: If the resources are available, he is happy to award interim fees.
Judge Seeliger: It depends on the case and how much remains to be done. If discovery still needs to be done, he is more likely to award interim fees.
How has the “standard custody schedule” changed during your years on the bench?
Judge Scott: It hasn’t. He encourages settlement of custody issues by telling the clients, “The results you are hoping for may not be the ones you get from me.” If no agreement is reached, he will adopt a schedule with stability for the children.
Judge Seeliger: Addition of guardians ad litem has made a positive change because their reports give the judge a much more complete factual picture. GALs should be careful to maintain neutral judgment and remember that they do not represent either of the parties.
Judge Adams: Now see more fathers seeking more parenting time. If you have a case with a pressing situation, contact his chambers for assistance; he prides himself on having staff members who are reachable.
Judge Seeliger had to depart early to hear a calendar.
Are court reporters available? It can be expensive to hire a court reporter to cover a hearing included in a large calendar.
Judge Adams: His division has a court reporter available. When hearing calendars, he takes cases with attorneys first. They can get you in for a hearing within 30-45 days if needed.
Judge Scott: You will probably need to bring your own court reporter for civil cases. During multi-case calendar calls he encourages pro se litigants to watch the attorneys. He does large calendars but usually has the attorneys out by 10:30 or 11 am.
Mediation and calendaring cases.
Judge Adams: It can be especially useful to use mediation at the time of the court session when the parties are pro se.
Judge Scott: He was initially surprised to see the same parents coming back to court repeatedly, but now he is not. He wants to get cases on the calendar rather than have them in the corner collecting dust. His staff attorney has family law expertise and is very sensitive to the needs of the domestic bar.
Judge Scott: Willing to handle simple discovery matters by telephone, or matters involving an attorney who has moved out of the area, if everyone agrees. Will consider Skype on case-by-case basis, but one problem is that all documents need to be arranged in advance.
Judge Adams: Could do this, but all technical arrangements would need to be made in advance to avoid wasting time.