Denver Bar Association
April 2013
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Judges Train for Amendment 64 Issues

by Marshall Snider

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oter approval of Amendment 64 in November has raised many regulatory challenges. The General Assembly is already wrestling with a number of thorny issues resulting from the passage of this amendment, which legalized the recreational use of small amounts of marijuana in Colorado. In a less publicized but no less important effort, the Colorado State Judicial Branch also is preparing for issues that may arise now that lawyers, like all citizens, can smoke a joint or two without running afoul of state law.

 

Of particular concern to state judicial officials is the possibility that lawyers may appear in court with an herbal buzz on. Judges and court personnel have years of experience spotting drunk lawyers — the bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, inability to walk a straight line from counsel table to the witness stand. But judicial officials have no history of spotting lawyers who may have puffed their way through lunch in order to be relaxed for the next stage of that stressful jury trial. The fact that a lawyer may ask a stupid question or make an illogical argument is not enough to conclude that counsel is stoned; judges have observed that type of behavior for years prior to the legalization of pot.

The judicial branch has therefore developed a multi-day training program to teach judges and their staffs how to identify attorneys who have exercised their Amendment 64 rights before appearing in court. The training program starts off in a fun and relaxing way, with participants viewing three movies that will attune them to forms of marijuana-induced behavior. The film festival kicks off with the obvious choice, Cheech and Chong’s "Up in Smoke," followed by the equally classic "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," and the always informative "Dude, Where’s My Car?" (The developers of the training program had hoped to include "Pineapple Express" in this segment of the course, but organizers feared that forcing judges to watch four stoner movies in one day would lead to erratic behavior and the adoption of inappropriate manners of speech.)

The second day of the training consists of interactive role playing in which participants take on the roles of attorneys, judges, and witnesses in scenarios that demonstrate behavior that might indicate counsel is wasted. The role-play scripts contain subtle clues that a lawyer might be feeling more mellow than appropriate in court. The judicial branch provided The Docket with training examples of scenarios that could arise in court. The following exchange might occur during the examination of a witness in an automobile accident case:

Attorney: Now, Mr. Smith, describe what you saw the day of the accident.

Witness: I saw the defendant run the red light and hit the car driven by your client.

Attorney: (Giggling) Sweeeeet; far out!

Witness: But the plaintiff, your client, was speeding.

Attorney: Duuuude! No way!

Training program participants are informed that attorneys reacting to testimony in this way just might be toked up. Similarly, judges will be taught to look for telltale signs of weed consumption when counsel addresses the court, as in this example:

Judge: Ms. Jones, I understand you have a motion you want to file.

Attorney Jones: Oh, I dunno, your honoress. Like, I’m really not into the law today. Are we cool?

Judge: Ms. Jones, you are out of order.

Attorney Jones: Oh, I get it, your honor (winking). We should order a pizza. Like, pepperoni? Dude, your court is soooo cool.

Exchanges such as the above are red flags that a lawyer may not be on top of her game, and judges and clerks will be taught to identify these signs of stoniness. It also has been suggested that rolling a chocolate doughnut hole in front of counsel table and seeing who jumps all over it is another way to spot a stoned solicitor. However, state judicial has not yet approved this method of observation.

Regardless of the specifics of the training program, the judicial branch is hopeful that by addressing this issue early on court personnel will develop the tools needed to maintain order in the court during the Amendment 64 era. D

Marshall Snider is a former Colorado administrative law judge who works as an arbitrator and mediator. He may be reached at msniderarb@comcast.net.


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