Judging by what you're saying: Judges' questioning of lawyers as interactive interpretation

Hobbs, Pamela

University of California, Los Angeles, United States of America


Much of the study of courtroom questioning in the fields of sociolinguistics and discourse analysis has focused upon lawyers’ questioning of witnesses on direct and cross-examination at trial. These studies have examined the discursive strategies by which lawyers shape these exchanges in order to control the evidence and impressions that are produced. However, another form of courtroom questioning—the questioning of lawyers by judges—has seldom been explored. Yet judges’ questioning of lawyers is both ubiquitous and consequential in courtroom settings, for through this questioning judges seek lawyers’ input, not only in the framing of the issues and the furnishing of authority (activities which are formally acknowledged to be the province of the lawyer and not the court), but also in their formulations of the interpretations by which they apply the law to the specific facts and issues that are before them. This chapter describes four questioning strategies that judges use to engage lawyers in interactive interpretation of the issues presented: taking candidate positions on the facts or law; displaying confidence or doubt in their own interpretations; posing ‘exam’ questions that engage lawyers in Socratic dialogue; and using humor or displays of virtuosity to challenge lawyers’ interpretations. Through the analysis of examples of judges’ questioning of lawyers in trial and appellate courts, I demonstrate how judges use these strategies to both clarify and challenge lawyers’ positions, and to resolve questions relating to those positions prior to making their rulings.

Session: Paper session
Court / Intercultural Communication
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 09:00-10:30
room: 08