by L. Katherine Adams-Carter
The Family Law Section of the DeKalb Bar had its second highest attendance ever at the September meeting, with participants eager to learn the “pet peeves” of the Superior Court Judges. The panel consisted of staff attorneys Amy Daldry (Judge Daniel Coursey), Denise Warner (Judge Mark Anthony Scott); Melody Bray (Judge Courtney Johnson); Matthew Harris (Judge Tangela Barrie) and Jason Broth (Judge Linda Warren Hunter). Shannon Hicks, staff attorney for Judge Seeliger, also contributed. Some of the pet peeves were common among the judges, and some were specific to the individual judges. So, the first bit of advice was to know your judge, and that specific judge’s likes and dislikes.
The most common pet peeves concerned child support worksheets. Have the child support worksheet ready. Judge Scott does not want you to just “throw it against the wall” and leave him to figure it out. There needs to be evidence to support your position. If there is a deviation from the presumed child support, then Judge Barrie wants there to be an answer to the question as to whether it serves the best interest of the child, and a signature line on the same page. Judge Coursey requires that line 13 on the child support worksheet must match the agreement, and if there is a deviation, then Schedule E must have a deviation.
Another common pet peeve concerned client counseling. Clients need to be better counseled. Clients who tell their attorneys “it’s the principle” need to be given realistic expectations, and be prepared for the possible range of outcomes.
There also needs to be better preparation of the case and pleadings. Motions for judgment on the pleadings must have an affidavit attached stating that the marriage is still irretrievably broken. The child support addendum must be signed. Careful thought should be given as to which issues are going to cause a contempt action to be filed. Is there vagueness in the agreement about how an issue will be resolved? Judge Hunter is especially a stickler when it comes to vagueness in the agreements as to how the marital residence will be handled, because it is the second most common cause of a contempt action. She insists that there be a clear agreement about who will own it, and who will carry the burdens of ownership going forward in the future.
As to emergency hearings, Judge Johnson “needs blood.” The fact that the end of summer is coming and one of the parents wants the parenting schedule to change before school starts is not sufficient. On the other hand, if one of the parents is getting on a plane with the children and leaving the state, that would warrant an emergency hearing.
Other common pet peeves concern efficiency and time limitations. Judge Johnson is a stickler for time limits. However, if you need more time than she has allotted, ask ahead of the scheduled hearing, and explain why more time is needed. If you are allotted only 30 minutes, don’t waste your time on an opening, because Judge Johnson reads the files beforehand. If the opposing side uses up time on a lengthy opening, point it out to the judge so that the time can be equalized. If you can stipulate as to the admissability of documents beforehand, that is helpful. Otherwise, be aware of the rules for authentication and be knowledgeable of the rules of evidence. Judge Coursey does not want courtesy copies of judgements on the pleadings, nor final judgments with a “widow page” for the signature line.
And the last piece of advice, but certainly not the least important to attorneys, was in regard to attorney fees, and responsibly charging attorney fees. Do not make the case or its issues bigger than it needs to be, especially when clients cannot pay, and then expect the judge to award the fees from the opposing side.