By Quinton Lister, Legal Assistant
I attended my first trial this past week. I did not question any witnesses or argue the case at the trial or anything like that because I am not a lawyer (I’m a legal assistant), and it was fascinating to experience. The trial was a “bench” trial which means that the parties present their case before the judge, but there is no jury. I have learned that divorce and child custody trials in Utah never have juries. One can’t have one’s divorce case tried to a jury even if one wanted a jury trial. Fun fact, according to the attorney I work for (Eric Johnson), the only state that allows juries in divorce cases is Texas.
One surprising thing about this trial was that it took all day even though there were only two witnesses that were questioned the entire trial, the mom and the dad. Each attorney had a long set of questions that each asked his/her client on the witness stand. The other attorney would then have the opportunity to cross-examine with his/her own set of questions. I did not envy these witnesses. It was an emotionally taxing thing for me just to observe, so I can imagine how much harder it is to be on the hotseat.
The trial was for a child custody case. It would, in my opinion, be difficult to be a judge in this case because the only witnesses were the two parties in question. There was not much physical evidence (like documents, photos, etc.) and the two parties gave seemingly contradictory testimonies. It would be hard to be a judge in that type of situation because the judge must decide who she believes and who she thinks is lying (whether by telling flat out falsehoods or not telling the whole truth).
I learned during this trial how important it is to stay focused because it could be easy to lose track of the line of questioning, and each side had to be prepared to counter when something unexpected happened or if there was an objection that needed to be made.
Speaking of objections, one thing that I did not expect was that the judge could even acknowledge that a question was objectionable yet not be required to sustain the objection when an attorney pointed this out. That is a lot of power for one person to have. In this case, it was clear to me that the judge was set on finishing the trial in one day, and so there were certain objections and claims made that she wouldn’t bother with. Whether this was the right thing to do I am not certain, but that has been perhaps one of the most eye-opening things I witnessed at this trial.
What did I learn from experiencing a trial for the first time that I can pass on? If you are preparing for a trial make sure you do your homework, understand what the purpose of the trial is and what the court needs to know, and be grateful if you have experienced legal counsel (I can’t imagine how a pro se litigant could expect to do well in trial when it’s a close call kind of case). At least, that is my point of view on the subject.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277