“Naked” in the Courthouse

July 11, 2016

Naked, I felt. At 9:23 a.m. my secretary Chandra found me, getting a glass of water, to remind me about the status conference at 9:30 a.m. at the courthouse.

“Say what,” I said.

“You know, the status conference in –.”


I got to the courthouse by 9:30, thanks to a ride from Chandra. The hearing went well. A status conference involves making sure everything is on track, and everything was and is.

So, why naked? Well, I had a tie in my office (and it got tied in the car, and with a very fine knot, thank you very much), but no jacket. Without the jacket I did, truly, feel undressed in the courtroom. Truth be told, I am an old-fashioned fellow. When I know in advance that I’ll be in court—always, just about—I wear a suit. The bottom and top fabric comes from the same bolt of cloth, and we’re talking cloth here. There is a tie. It complements the suit. Flash is fine but there are limits. And about shirts? Clean and pressed, with a buttoned collar, even in Tucson in July.**

How people dress—or even how they act—in the courthouse does not rise to my Top Ten Biggest Problems Facing America list. That said, here are some quick thoughts about courthouses:

(9) Quiet in the hallways and the courtroom. Or, as one of my good friends says, often, to me: “Inside voice, please.” (Sometimes the “please” gets forgotten!

(8) Don’t talk about your case in the elevator or the rest room or in the courtroom when the other side is present. You don’t know who might be hearing you. (Thanks to first co-mentor DHL, who taught me this lesson on Monday, October 19, 1981, my first workday as an attorney.)

(7) Turn your effing cell phone off. (From the magazine Duh!)

(6) Wear clothes that cover your body. (Honestly, I do see people in the courthouse in shorts, with tats and piercings.)

(5) Stand up when the judge enters. Really!

(4) Don’t expect the judge to solve your problem when you show up, just because you are there and think he or she ought to meet your needs because, well, you’re there. There is a process, and your presence doesn’t trump* it. (I know this one can be tough for lay people, and in lower level courts justices of the peace try very hard to simplify processes. Unfortunately, sometimes stuff is simply not simple!)

(3) Show up. On time. When you’re late you can screw up everybody’s whole day and, if you’re too late, you may screw up your life!

(2) Leave your guns and knives and extra metal at home or in your car. Gun and knives will be taken at the security checkpoints, and the “metals” thing slows everybody else down. Then they’re late. So are you. Read No. 3.

(1) Leave your children at home or with someone, it that is at all possible. Children don’t belong in courthouses. And, especially, they should not be in the courthouse when mommy or daddy has bad court business. (If I were king, I’d have a day care facility on the first floor of every courthouse in America. No minors allowed upstairs. When kids think going to court is a part of the family life, the criminal justice experience will likely scare them less than it ought to.)

Just some thoughts on a really, really hot day in July. Why only nine? I welcome additional suggestions, to round out a Top Ten … or more list.

*I do so hope that, on the morning of November 9, 2016, I can use the word trump without conjuring up unpleasantness.

**How attorneys dress in the courthouse is best captured in this exchange from My Cousin Vinny:

Judge Haller: What are you wearing?
Vinny: Huh?
Judge Haller: What are you wearing?
Vinny[wearing a leather jacket] Um, I’m wearing clothes.
[Judge stares ominously]
Vinny: I… I don’t get the question.
Judge Haller: When you come into my court looking like you do, you not only insult me, but you insult the integrity of this court.
Vinny: I apologize, sir, but, uh… this is how I dress.
Judge Haller: The next time you appear in my court, you will look lawyerly. And I mean you comb your hair, and wear a suit and tie. And that suit had better be made out of some sort of… cloth. You understand me?
Vinny: Uh yes. Fine, Judge, fine.



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