As attorneys, it is often difficult to explain to young children what we do for a living. I have two children, ages 7 and 4, who have no conception of what I do on a daily basis. They know that I go to work, that I have an office, and that my job title is that of a “lawyer.” But, that is about it. There is just no way to explain lawyer life to a small child that doesn’t leave him/her looking completely bored. Being a lawyer can just never be as exciting to a child as a firefighter, a teacher, a dump truck driver, or an Avenger. Or can it?
Recently, my 4-year old son came into my bedroom with my 7-year old daughter trailing not far behind. My son told me that his sister hit him on the back, and, of course, my daughter denied the allegations, stating that it was an accident. In turn, my son denied that the conduct was anything but intentional. In trying to siphon through the dispute, it dawned on me that I had the perfect opportunity to show my kids what a lawyer does. We decided to have a trial.
Before doing so, we conducted a “pretrial conference” with myself presiding as judge. I explained to my son that he had the burden of proof as he was accusing my daughter of battery, an intentional tort. As such, he would need to prove that his sister intended to commit the act, that there was contact, and that the contact caused him harm. We then discussed evidence and the different means my son could use to prove his case. In turn, I explained to my daughter that she would have the opportunity to cross-examine the plaintiff’s witnesses and to put up her own case if she chose to do so. It appearing that they understood the procedure, I set the case for trial 10 minutes after our pretrial conference (we have a rocket docket in our house).
When the trial began, the parties decided to waive opening statements as we were proceeding non-jury and the judge had already been thoroughly briefed on the case. My son, appearing pro se, called himself as his first witness. He was very direct in his testimony, stating emphatically that his sister hit him. Unfortunately, that was his only testimony. As such, the judge (me), exercising the powers of the bench, decided to question my son directly. Regardless of the question, my son gave the same response, “Because [my daughter] hit me.” Well, consistency does have its merit in the courtroom.
Thereafter, my daughter took her turn at cross-examination. She asked one simple question, “I didn’t hit you, did I?” Her technique lacked the sort of set-up and back the witness into a corner method I usually prefer, but, despite my son’s denial, she made her point. I guess.
My son, perhaps feeling strongly about the weight of his own testimony, decided not to call any more witnesses. I was a little disappointed because it was rumored that Optimus Prime, a potential witness to this accident if you can believe it, was slated to be the plaintiff’s star witness. Perhaps, in choosing to keep him off of the witness stand, my son knew that Optimus was susceptible to “more than meets the eye” questioning on cross-examination. But, this is only speculation.
For my daughter’s case, she, too, called herself as her sole witness. She testified that she was walking through the living room and accidentally stepped on Optimus Prime, who had been left by my son in the middle of the floor. In doing so, my daughter stumbled, fell into my son, and accidentally elbowed him in the back. After making contact with his back, my daughter apologized, but my son immediately began making his false accusations.
The testimony was very telling and really left the judge wishing he would have had the opportunity to hear Optimus’ testimony. Certainly, my son would have a plan on cross-examination. Boy, did he ever. Just as my daughter had done with him previously, my son grilled her with one
question statement, “You hit me.” Her response was well thought out: “No. I fell into you after stepping on your toy. You didn’t witness anything because you were facing away towards the TV watching ‘Paw Patrol.'” No more questions.
Thereafter, I gave my son the opportunity to call any rebuttal witness (still hoping to hear from Optimus), but he declined. Each party then had the opportunity for closing arguments which consisted of a mere recitation of their own testimony. When the arguments were completed, perhaps because he was over-confident or because he simply no longer cared about the outcome, my son took the unprecedented approach of leaving the courtroom. In any event, the decision was clear. In considering all of the evidence before me, I found that the plaintiff did not carry his burden of proof and, thus, I found in favor of my daughter.
The result is still pending post-trial motions.
While I am not certain the trial necessarily had the desired outcome of showing my kids what I do for a living, it certainly gave our house a new means of deciding disputes and cut down on the occurrence of tattle telling. After all, Optimus’ eyes are always open and ready to crack the next big case.