Communicating With Judge Hankinson’s Office About Pending Cases
Judge Hankinson is restricted by principles of judicial ethics from communicating about pending cases outside of hearings or documents filed in the court file and served on all parties. This restriction also applies to Judge Hankinson’s judicial assistant, Ms. Rissinger .
Impartiality is the most basic principle of judicial ethics. It means that all parties to a pending case are included in all communications with the court regarding that matter – no party has special or secret access to the judge. Communication to the judge without prior notice to the opponent is "ex parte" and improper except in extreme circumstances and as specifically provided by applicable law. If the litigant does not know of any applicable law permitting a particular "ex parte" communication it is improper.
Judge Hankinson will not discuss his cases with any party outside of a hearing. Ms. Rissinger cannot take a message from a litigant or other person to Judge Hankinson.
Communication with Judge Hankinson regarding cases assigned to him can take two forms:
- Written documents filed in the court file and served on all parties; and
- Hearings (including final hearings and trials).
Ms. Rissinger’s responsibility is to schedule hearings and maintain Judge Hankinson’s calendar. Once a motion is filed or the matter is ready to be set for a final hearing or trial, the lawyer or litigant may call Ms. Rissinger to schedule a hearing. Ms. Rissinger may discuss potential dates and times for hearings. Ms. Rissinger is not permitted to discuss anything regarding disputes pending before Judge Hankinson with anyone for any purpose.
Since Ms. Rissinger cannot make decisions on disputed matters and cannot communicate to Judge Hankinson regarding things litigants say about disputed matters, no purpose is served by telling her about disputes.
Neither Judge Hankinson nor Ms. Rissinger are permitted to give legal advice. "Legal advice" means suggesting things that might be filed, evaluating the sufficiency of information on a form, interpretation of any document, evaluating the conduct of an opposing party or lawyer, and giving an opinion about the likelihood of success of an action in litigation. Judge Hankinson decides cases and motions. Judge Hankinson does not give legal advice. Ms. Rissinger does not decide cases or motions and does not give legal advice.
For pro se litigants, Ms. Rissinger is authorized to provide contact information for Legal Services of North Florida and the Tallahassee Bar Association Legal Aid Foundation. Family law forms are available from the Clerk of Court’s Office in the courthouse. Family law forms are designed for use by everyone, but are especially helpful to individuals who wish to represent themselves (pro se) in court matters related to family law. Please go to http://www.flcourts.org/gen_public/family/forms_rules/index.shtml for forms and more information.
Legal Services of North Florida, Inc.
Phone: (850) 385-9007
Tallahassee Bar Association Legal Aid Foundation (Leon County residents only)
Phone: (850) 222-3004