By Sean Hessler, Hessler Law
Note: This article was originally published on the Solo/Small Firm Practice Section webpage at indybar.org/ssf. Update your news subscriptions and get news like this delievered to your inbox by visiting indybar.org/myprofile.
It is sometimes said that a good lawyer knows the law, but a great lawyer knows the judge. And while it may be meant as a joke, knowing your audience (and the court) can be helpful in your practice. Feeling comfortable in court can help you provide better advocacy for your client and getting to know your local judges can help improve your practice.
This year, we are providing Solo/Small Firm Practice Section members with information about judicial officers that we hope will both encourage positive bench/bar relationships and help us all serve our clients better. This is the fifth installment in the Solo/Small Firm Practice Section’s “Getting to Know Your Judicial Officers” series.
Judge Jose D. Salinas currently serves in Criminal Court 14 at Marion Superior Court. Get to know more about him from our Q+A below!
Q: What do you look forward to most about the upcoming year in Criminal Court 14?
A: We have a new commissioner so we are just hoping to get back our normal routine. But there are no new changes. What I am looking forward to seeing from a judicial perspective is how the new criminal code changes impact not just Criminal Court 14, but all the criminal courts.
I have been here for almost eight years now and what I have done is taken the best of what I have learned in this building, here and from other courts. And, I am always open to suggestions.
Q: Any new changes that you are implementing that might be helpful for attorneys to know about?
A: No new changes other than looking to see how the code re-write will affect all the criminal courts’ numbers. We run three courts here: Court 14, Drug Treatment Court, and Re-entry Court, so our numbers are always high. So there may be operational changes that are needed but there’s nothing yet.
Q:Is there anything that you want practitioners to know about how you run your Court?
A: Look and see how other lawyers do it. In any court, your best friend is the bailiff. If you have four or five courts you have to be in, I remember that, I understand that. So, if you are not going to be able to stay in court, tell the bailiff. All you have to say is, “I’m going to be in courts A, B then C. Send me a text and I’ll be back.” Some lawyers don’t do that. But I don’t want to send building-wide notices looking for attorney X because it makes it look like the attorney isn’t around or isn’t doing their job, and I don’t want to give that impression. Also, it’s not the deputy’s job to track down attorneys for judges. No one likes that.
When in court, be ready to tell me the status of the case. As the judge, I see myself as the referee and I stay out of the case until I have to make a decision. But I also need to see some progress on the case. I want to know what that progress was since our last pretrial. For example, if the minute sheet from last time says the new hearing is a trial type, the attorneys need to be ready to go, to let me know where this case is going. So, you as the attorney are expected to know the status of your case.
Q: How, if at all, do you think that your experience as a solo/small firm private practice attorney has helped prepare you for your position? How do you think that experience shapes how you approach your cases and run your court?
A: I understand what it’s like to have to be in four or five courts at once. Solo attorneys have to hustle. I always try to be on the bench at 9 a.m. because I know how important it is to get done and get to the next thing. I don’t give anyone preference but I try to get everyone out as soon as possible.
This is a small community really. Your reputation goes a long way. If you’re honest with each other, defense and prosecution, it just makes it so much easier for everyone. You can negotiate things effectively. If you hide things, it’s going to get around this building. But if you’ve got a good reputation, again prosecutor or defense, and say, “this is the best we can do,” the other side can work with that. And sometimes things can’t be worked out, but at least we know we’ve really exhausted all our options first.
We have to work with each other. Not everything has to be a fight. I learned from Judge Altice that we have to leave it in the courtroom. When it’s done, it’s done. Once the jury has it, it’s over. We can’t change it then.
Q: What was the last book you read?
A: The Hour of Peril. It’s about a conspiracy to assassinate President Lincoln before he took office.
Q:Last movie? Thumbs up or thumbs down?
A: Inside Out. I saw it with the kids. It was good!
Q:On a Saturday afternoon you would likely be found _____________?
A: Relaxing — watching sports or a movie. I think it’s so important to get away. We lawyers all socialize with each other and what do we talk about? Lawyer stuff. It’s important to be able to get your mind away from anything that has to do with this building.
One final thing for the young lawyers out there: we’re lawyers, we’re built to argue. Make an argument, a meritorious argument.•