The 12th Annual Bradac Memorial Lecture

Event Date: 

Friday, October 23, 2015 - 3:30pm to 5:00pm

Event Location: 

  • Room 1009
  • Social Sciences & Media Studies Bldg

Event Contact: 

Professor Howie Giles,

The Department of Communication at UC Santa Barbara, co-sponsored with Sage Publications and the Language, Interaction, and Social Organization (LISO) Unit, invites you to join us for the The 12th Annual Bradac Memorial Lecture.  Please click here for the lovely event flyer (.pdf).

Karen Tracy

Professor and Chair of Communication, The University of Colorado at Boulder

“Discourse Style Variation among Judges in Small Claims Courts:Its Consequentiality”

Small claims courts were designed to help ordinary people settle "small" disputes quickly and cheaply. Currently capped at $3000-$15,000 depending on the state, trials in small claims courts involve disputants representing themselves, narrating their view of the issues that brought one of them to file a complaint against the other person. To facilitate these courts functioning well for non-attorneys -- the usual speakers in these courts -- judges relax the civil rules of evidence and testimony. By design, small claims courts are expected to be more informal than other courts. The practical upshot of this judicial philosophy of "relative" informality is that there is a significant variation in what judges do during a trial.  A small claims trial in Court A with Judge X can be quite different from a trial in Court B with Judge Y..
Following a review of the key findings in John Conley and William O'Barr's (1990) influential study of small claims courts in two states, I describe the changes that have occurred in small claims courts in the past 25 years. Then, drawing upon trial tapes/ transcripts from judges in three different courts from two states I describe the interactional style differences regarding how judges:  (1) open a trial, including  positioning themselves and the litigants and  framing what they will be doing; (2) announce their decision and its justification; and (3) question litigants and solicit their stories.  In concluding, I will consider the advantages and drawbacks of the marked discourse style variation in judge conduct.

Please join us for a reception afterwards on the 4th floor, Commons Area.