Patrick Meriwether: Holiday stress and the courts
by Patrick Meriwether
Columnist
December 04, 2011 12:00 AM | 839 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The holiday season is upon us and ‘Tis the season to be jolly!’

Unfortunately, the holiday season also brings with it a certain amount of stress. Many people permit their hectic schedules to create unnecessary stress in their lives. When people allow the stress to influence their actions, they tend to react to a problem rather than respond to it.

I was reminded of the importance of responding rather than reacting with an incident in a local department store at 3 a.m. on Black Friday. The wait to purchase items was so long that the store staff set up two different lines around the store. The staff directed one shopper to a certain line. She perceived that she had been treated unfairly and placed in a longer line. She demanded that she speak with the manager and angrily approached him about the situation. When the manager tried to explain how they were handling the lines, the shopper became enraged, threw her merchandise at the manager, hitting his feet, and stormed out of the store.

Fortunately for the shopper, the manager did not take it personally and did not call the police. What the shopper did could have resulted in criminal charges as serious as assault or battery. She reacted to the situation and did something foolish. Had she simply reflected on her situation and responded to her predicament, she might have achieved her original purpose that morning and not wasted the time she had spent in the store.

The same principles apply when dealing with the court system. Reacting to a difficult situation, as the shopper did, typically does not result in a positive outcome. The clerks, bailiffs, judges and judges’ staff are just like you or me, all people trying to do their job the best way they can. Like the manager at the store, they have to follow office rules, too.

So how do you prevent the stress of the holidays from adding to the tension that most already feel when dealing with a situation in court? This is done by taking a moment to pause and respond to a problem, rather than rashly reacting to it. Part of keeping your cool and responding to the situation is by asking questions to gain a better understanding of the situation. Let me illustrate this with a recent situation I had with the clerk’s office.

The members of our clerks of court work hard to serve the residents of Cherokee County well. They are not permitted to give out legal advice, but are given specific instructions on how to handle certain situations. If circumstances arise contrary to those specific instructions, they often cannot assist you. While it can be frustrating because you may not understand what the specific rules are or how they apply in your particular situation, it is important to remember that reacting to the situation and getting angry with a member of the clerk’s office is not the answer.

Recently, my paralegal, Amy, went to the clerk’s office to file an emergency motion in a particular case that had to be filed that day. At first, the clerk’s office would not accept the motion. Amy asked them why they could not accept the motion, and the clerk, as she should have, stated that the case was technically on appeal, which deprived them of jurisdiction. Amy knew that there was an exception to this general rule that would permit the motion to be filed, despite the pending appeal, but also knew that it was a rare exception of which few non-lawyers know about.

Rather than reacting to the situation and getting angry, Amy, politely thanked the clerk for her time and came back to my office for assistance on how to deal with the situation. After Amy left, the clerk went and spoke to her supervisor. She realized that Amy had been correct regarding the limited exception of our motion and promptly called Amy to have her come back to the clerk’s office. I am convinced that the clerk took the time to speak with her supervisor because Amy did not react to the situation, but rather, she was polite to the clerk while she sought another solution to the problem.

In summary, do not let the hectic part of the holidays cause you to react poorly to a situation rather than responding, especially when dealing with those at the courthouse. Take a moment, ask questions to gain a better understanding of the problem you might be facing, and then respond to the situation.

As you pause to consider your response, remember the Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Patrick “Leh” Meriwether is a happily married Cherokee County resident and a partner in the law firm Meriwether & Tharp, LLC. He is a certified mediator and arbitrator. His practice focuses primarily on Family Law and Divorce. His firm posts information weekly about different areas of family law on the firm’s blog, www.atlantadivorceattorneyblog.com.
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