Sunday, December 13, 2009
Etiquette in the courtroom.
The chewing of bubblegum will not be allowed in this courtroom. I still chuckle every time I think about that old sign hanging on the door of a courtroom I just spent a few days in. Courtroom etiquette is something that we all have learned and adhere too as legal professionals. In fact, it is probably the most important thing any greenhorn should master before they even attempt to work in a trial setting. Knowing when and where to sit/stand can even change depending on the judge which you have been assigned.
This past week I witnessed (no pun intended) a member of the tipstaff repeatedly falling asleep. To make matters worse this individual was loudly snoring during the examination of an expert witness. Now mind you this was no isolated event as it occurred several times. Surprisingly our judge did not seem overly concerned about it. Unfortunately, our jurors had quizzical raised eyebrows at the snoring. All I could think about was the old adage, do as I say, not as I do.
For the most part my experiences over the years have been all positive in regards to decorum and etiquette during a trial. When the Phillies were working on their World Series title in 2008, I had a federal court judge give an interesting jury instruction. He actually required any Phillies fans to wear their hats for good luck! Obviously in a normal setting hats are usually off limits.
While this may not be the most compelling blog subject, I deemed it worth touching on. Often newer members of the litigation support community are at a disadvantage in situations like this. Sure, you can do what most of us did and just watch everyone else. So below I have constructed what I believe to be a helpful list for both newbie’s and veterans alike:
• Dress appropriately.
• Do not speak out of turn.
• Stand when the judge or jury enters.
• Do not make facial gestures or emotional expression during testimony.
• Write/pass notes to avoid any conversation.
• Wireless devices should be silenced or turned off.
• Cameras are generally not allowed in Federal courts.
• Food and beverage is dependant on the court and judge.
• Reading anything, non-case related is not advised.
• If you are coughing or seriously sneezing step out for a moment.
• Hat wearing is generally frowned upon.
• Playing computer games (solitaire) is not advised.
• Do not stare at the jury for prolonged periods.
I could continue for probably a few more bullet points but I think that is a good primer. Most basic manner skills will get you very far when dealing with a formal setting such as a courtroom. I remember a young lawyer being puzzled years ago when a judge would not acknowledge him. The lawyer stood there asking a question about a motion in limine with his hands in his pant pockets. Our judge was an old colonel who did a stint in the Marine Corps. He refused to speak to anyone wearing a hat (indoors) or with his or her hands in their pockets. Finally the red-faced young lawyer walked off puzzled and scratching his head. I pulled him aside and explained what the issue was and he quickly apologized to the judge.
Perhaps the best advice on learning courtroom etiquette can be summed up by a General George S. Patton quote, When in doubt, observe and ask questions. When certain, observe at length and ask many more questions.