I showed up in court a few weeks back for a 9 o'clock court appearance. Traffic was light, I arrived and parked about a block and a half from the courthouse, walked into the courtroom, and found the judge had already started the calendar and was on Item #8 [I was #2]. I checked in with the bailiff, and was the only one of the three lawyers on my case to have done so.
I then went back and sat down, opened my briefcase, and leaned back to wait for one of the other attorneys to appear. I casually looked up at the courtroom clock, and it said 9:01, as the judge called case #9. When the judge got to the end of the calendar, he started back at the beginning, looked over and saw me, and asked whether I was waiting for opposing counsel. I said I was.
I got up and casually walked to the back door, and as I exited the courtroom found one of my opponents coming it, assuming that he had plenty of time to get there for calendar call. We turned around, went back in, told the judge we needed 60 days to resolve some discovery issues, the judge thanked us, and we left.
Outside the courtroom, we were both dumbfounded. Each of us had left in time to arrive by 9 o'clock, assuming that the judge would be several minutes late, as judges usually are.
There are some days you just cannot get to court on time. Negotiating the I-15 to Highway 78 interchange can be a disaster. It seems everyone slows to a crawl because of something like a cardboard box lying empty on the side of the road, and the whack-o's who drive the Highway 78 corridor can't help but stop and look in case they might miss some bargain, a dead body, or free oranges.
My companion then claimed that another lawyer was "the worst". This is a lawyer who proudly trumpets that he the winner of "the coveted 128.5 award", routinely provided by the Certified Family Law Specialists' Committee of the San Diego County Bar Association to someone who is habitually late, files frivolous motions, etc., although basically a jovial fellow. My companion said that this lawyer had called his office on one occasion to find out what time he would actually show up, apparently trying to find out how much leeway he had in getting to the court on time. He eventually arrived an hour late.
We then joked about the perpetual excuse that he was doing some religious event [a prayer breakfast, speaking at a church luncheon, or leaving early for a "church retreat"], as though everyone should understand that his schedule involved in these religious matters should take priority over the schedule of the court or the convenience of the other side.
Typically, Family Law is a "hurry up and wait" kind of litigation practice. The calendar may be set at 9 a.m. or 1:30 p.m., but you may arrive finding 20 other cases on calendar, many of which will be argued in an order determined by the whim of the judge. Some judges routinely call matters where there are lawyers involved first. This frees the lawyers to go to another courtroom to argue another case, and historically makes the process move more quickly: Once you have both lawyers in the same place, it is easier to get them done so that they can go off and deal with other matters, in front of other judges who may be waiting for them.
A few judges put the lawyers down the list, either to avoid the complaint that they show favoritism to cases with lawyers, or because they are concerned that the non-represented litigants will learn something from the lawyers' arguments and make their cases more difficult.
Lawyers quickly learn that arriving on time does not necessarily get them out quickly, and judges learn that lawyers are not always there because they are checking into some other courtroom or arguing a case elsewhere. The reality is always a mix, with some lawyers taking advantage of the fact that they won't be missed since the judge has plenty to do, and they routinely make no effort to show up on time. Occasionally you will see a litigant wandering around looking for his or her lawyer, or be approached asking if they should be doing something because their lawyer isn't there.
The longer we practice, the less enamored we become of the courtroom process, and the less we accept without complaint waiting for hours for a 20-minute hearing that really does not do the issues justice, but is all that we can squeeze out of the courts unless we are willing to wait a few months for a hearing.