Reflections on Family Court Visits

The Courtroom

The first impression I had of Family Court is that the courtrooms were small. Before I went there, I just imagined that a courtroom consisted of three big chairs for judges on a little high stage and many chairs for the audience at the back. The courtrooms I visited consisted of one chair for a judge, two chairs for assistants, maybe clerks, and a small number of chairs for the parties involved and counsel. —Youngkun Yu (YY)


Once we went upstairs to the actual courtroom I realized that the room was not much larger than our seminar room at CUNY. The opposing attorneys all sat at the same table and barely had room to lay out all of their notes and papers. The parents involved in the case were seated about five feet behind the desk where the attorneys sat and the father would constantly walk and lean over to whisper something to his attorney. As far as seats for onlookers whose case was to be called afterwards, there were only eight chairs, four of which the other CUNY students and I took up. People were standing up in the back of the room, and sometimes even sitting on the floor when they got tired of standing. (CM)


When I entered a courtroom, I was surprised because it was smaller than I imagined. Only about six to seven chairs for the audience were there. I could feel that the structure was not welcoming to spectators. I think that it was designed intentionally to limit seating since family matters are so intimate and can be embarrassing if revealed to the public. (YK)


For one thing, it is absolutely not like the courtrooms of television or the Federal courtroom we visited during the orientation here at CUNY. The courtroom is quite small, and it seems to be in great need of general repair. I remember seeing a courtroom like this during an internship I had with the Public Defender of Binghamton, during my undergraduate years. The courtroom was very tiny because it was located in a small town, or so I was told by one of the lawyers. This, however, is New York City and I did not expect the courtroom to be in such a deteriorated state. (CJS)


When I went into the courtroom, I noticed that the room was small and almost congested. I also noticed that there was not a lot of space to maneuver. I had expected the room to be bigger. Further, court proceedings are supposed to be open to the public but there is no room for anyone to sit and observe court proceedings. What I mean is that the space allocated for court visitors was limited to an assortment of six chairs that seemed to have been an afterthought. The chairs were placed immediately behind the parties' benches and whenever the court personnel wanted to go outside or more to the other side of the room the observer had to move to make space so that they could pass. This was the same when the parties were entering the room. I thought that it was extremely distracting. Whoever designed the building should have taken time to map out the logistics of a functioning courtroom. —Stacey-Ann Suckoo (SAS)


When we entered the courtroom, I felt all eyes were on us, but the law guardian who was speaking when we walked in did not seem bothered by our interruption and continued to argue her case. We sat in the back of the courtroom, which was not as spacious as I had imagined or seen on television. However, it was orderly and everyone —defendants, plaintiffs, and law guardians —seemed to have his or her own designated area. (MM)


I looked around and every lawyer, and most of the court officers, were white. The only people of color employed by the court seemed to be security guards. I realize this is a generalization, but for the most part, is true. Last week at the juvenile defense panel, a statistic assured me I was not crazy. Between 95-98% of the children adjudicated in family court are persons of color. It was also said that children of color make up less than one third of the children in the city. (JS)


Because it was a very quiet afternoon, we spent most of the visit in the court specializing in "in-take." The room was about the size of one of the medium classrooms at CUNY. The judge was at one end of the room. Everyone else was at the other end of the room behind a perimeter of desks. The psychological gulf between judicial authority and supplicant was reinforced by the physical distance. (KE)


The parties and the presiding judge were physically close to each other, and so were the parties themselves with respect to each other. It seemed as if everyone knew each other, and they knew why they were in that room: to determine the next step for the improvement of the children. The small size of the room added to the relaxed and private atmosphere of the court. However, one could still notice the adversarial aspect of the proceedings. Though Family Court is perceived as one of the less adversarial courts in the judicial system, the attorneys involved still had to represent their clients and advocate for them to the best of their abilities, regardless of their personal feelings or opinions. —Farhid Sedaghat-pour (FS)