Trial Lawyers: Advice from A Los Angeles Superior Court Judge

Judge Louis Meisinger (Ret.) spoke to a group of Los Angeles business litigation attorneys at the USC Law Alumni Association lunch today about his insights after five years as a trial judge in the Los Angeles Superior Court. Judge Meisinger was formerly a business litigation attorney (with his own firm) and general counsel (for Disney) before becoming a judge. He is now a mediator with ADR, Inc.

Judge Meisinger first talked about the unappreciated but incredibly important first impression that comes from voir dire. Voir dire is the questioning of potential jurors at the beginning of the trial. As he noted, litigation attorneys spend more time on their opening statement but often fumble through voir dire. This is very important so prepare and take it seriously.

Trial judges also look down on attorneys who complain, whine and act like children. Ad hominem attacks put the judge off so avoid all of the above.

Trial attorneys in the midst of litigation should also strive to improve their likeability in front of the jury. Jurors dislike overly aggressive lawyers. He told a story of how–as a young, aggressive attorney–he constantly attacked a witness with impeachment by reading out inconsistencies in his deposition. After the trial the jury told him that they did not see how anyone can be expected to remember everything they said two years ago. Moreover, the jury thought he as the attorney was too aggressive with the witness.

As for briefs to the court, the judge implored lawyers not to overwhelm the judge with long briefs. Judges don’t have the time to review them. Attorneys should strive to write shorter briefs that are concise and get to the point sooner. He likes bullet point summaries and timelines.

As for the judges themselves, Judge Meisinger said that not all judges are created equal. Research them and know your judge. Judges like simple solutions–if you can give them a solution which does not call for them to decide a controversial issue, that is better.

Judges hate (1) Motions for Summary Judgment, (2) discovery motions and (3) motions in limine. Be selective about MSJs. Discovery motions are “just lawyers bickering.” Motions in limine are just a waste of time and oftentimes the trial judge does not even remember them when the issue arises at trial. Pick your most important ones.

How do you deal with a bad judge? You should be concerned by judges who ask no questions, won’t answer any questions or have mistakes in their tentative rulings. Point out to the court the benefit to the court of getting it right (i.e., avoiding trial). Ask the judge diplomatically to take another look at the key case.

Lastly, Judge Meisinger stressed the importance for business litigation attorneys of knowing the evidence code. Judges may not even be well prepared for evidentiary issues so if you are knowledgeable and prepared it will help you with your case.

Overall, Judge Meisinger’s talk was a great insight into what Los Angeles business litigation attorneys face when they go to court and how they can improve on their performance.