How to Write a Letter Addressing the Court

By Teo Spengler - Updated June 19, 2017
Man writing notes in a notebook and using a tablet

Most communications with a sitting judge about a case happen through legal documents you file with the clerk of the court, with copies given to the other side. When writing a letter to a court is appropriate, use the proper form of addressing the judge, describe your reason for writing, and then set out what you have to say in clear and simple language.

When Writing a Letter to the Court Is Appropriate

The core idea of the American judicial system is to mete out justice. That means that nobody gets special treatment, and all parties have an equal chance to present their cases to an impartial judge.

To make sure that happens, judges are not allowed to communicate with parties or people close to parties outside of court. If you try to chat with a judge about your case or send a personal letter about the issues, your communication is called ex parte. Judges cannot rely on or permit ex parte communications except in very limited cases.

But writing a letter to the court is appropriate in certain cases. For example, it is appropriate to write a letter to the court in support of someone about to be sentenced after a criminal conviction. Convicted criminals write letters to the court seeking leniency. And crime victims write letters to the court describing their experiences.

Use the Appropriate Form of Address

If you are writing a letter to the court, you should address the judge properly, depending on the type of court and level of judge. Look online for a list of the forms of address for judges in the state and federal systems. Both the University of Wisconsin Law School and the University of Minnesota Law School publish lists of the proper form of address for a letter to the court.

In general, you should refer to a judge named John Jones as "The Honorable Judge Jones" on the envelope and heading of the letter. In the salutation, use "Dear Judge Jones." Some appellate judges are termed justices. For a justice, write "The Honorable Justice Jones" and "Dear Justice Jones."

State the Purpose of the Letter

Introduce yourself early in the letter, specifying whether you are a party or the friend of a party. Then describe the purpose of the letter.

Don't worry about stating it elegantly, just say it clearly. If you are writing to support Jane Doe who is being sentenced next Tuesday, say so. Provide the full name of the case you are writing about and give the case number.

Set Out the Information

State the information you wish to convey. This will vary depending on the purpose of the letter, but, to the extent possible, keep it concise and to the point. Sign and date the letter.

When you finish, run a spell check. You want the letter to make a good impression on the judge.

About the Author

Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.

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