Today I went to Annapolis to attend the oral arguments at the Maryland Court of Appeals. Since the oral arguments were open to the general public, I figure it’s OK for me to write about it here without violating any ethics or code of conduct.
I saw some really good lawyers, who articulated their points very clearly and answered the judge’s witty questions with equally witty responses, and some really bad lawyers, who did not seem to know their cases well and who went on and on about some irrelevant issues without answering the judges’ questions. There was even one criminal defense lawyer who could not stand still in front of the podium when he’s speaking. Every body part of his seemed to have to be in constant motion. I got dizzy just watching him move. Even when he sits down he could not sit still: he rocked his chair like he was riding a seesaw; he expended extra effort to put on the smirks on his face while watching his opponent speak; and even when there was absolutely nothing for him to do, he would go through the elaborate process of taking out a pen from his shirt pocket, twirling it, circling a word in his brief, then rubbing the pen in between his palms a couple dozen times before putting the pen back in his pocket.
Other than seeing this lawyer who was apparently suffering from hyperkinetic syndrome, I was quite happy that I had the opportunity to observe the court proceedings. I don’t know why, but I was just fascinated by some pure formalities preserved by the court, presumably from its earliest days in the 17th century. For example, this is an excerpt from the Court’s website that describes the opening procedures of the court this morning:
The judges of the Court of Appeals of Maryland assemble on the 4th floor of the Courts of Appeal Building before 10:00 a.m. A few minutes before that time the judges don their red robes with white stocks in the robing room and line up in the conference room in prescribed order to enter the courtroom.
Promptly at 10:00 a.m. the Chief Judge pushes the buzzer, and the court crier with a rap of the gavel announces, “All rise, please,” while the judges enter and take their places, standing in front of their chairs. As the judges and spectators stand, the court crier continues:
Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having any business with the Honorable the Court of Appeals of Maryland draw near and give your attention. The court is now in session. God save the State and this Honorable Court.
I heard that a Michigan Law grad is clerking for one of the judges this year, and I am looking forward to meeting this person. It’s a good feeling to know that there is some alumni network around here. Mostly the clerks and interns are from schools in the local area, and there are, by my last count, eight law schools in the DC-Baltimore area alone (American U, George Mason, George Washington, Georgetown, Howard, U of Baltimore, U of DC, and U of MD, plus UVA and William and Mary, but they are further away). The Washington DC area is certainly a crowded place for law students, and lawyers.