Courtroom Etiquette

No Spitting, No Flip Flops, No Justice.


I have observed what litigants will wear and how they'll behave in court; from inappropriate clothing to giving opposing counsel the middle finger. Yes, the middle finger. And while it may be something to look back on and chuckle, it is not funny when it is taking place in front of the judge.


We all know the phrase, "first impressions matter..." and nothing is more true than in court. It starts with your attorney, to the opposing attorney, clerks, court-reporter, witnesses, and ends with judge/jury (depending on your hearing). You want to ensure you are giving your audience a good first impression, telling them you respect the Court and the situation. I believe too many people have lost respect for the sanctum of the Court. But if your case truly matters to you and you have a lot a stake, etiquette and respect can go a long way.


Appearance

I understand not everyone has a 3 piece suit in their closet and unless your attorney likes to look snazzy or you have a million dollar lawsuit on the line, it's not necessary. However, showing up to a custody hearing in Hello Kitty pajama bottoms and a white spaghetti strap top is not necessary either (Yes, seen it).


What Not to Wear

  • Shorts

  • Mini skirts or mini dresses

  • Jeans with holes, rips, tears, dirt, paint, or embroidery (in some Courts clean dark washed jeans do not matter, ask your attorney if you can wear them before going to court)

  • Pants with holes, rips, tear, dirt, paint, or embroidery

  • Athletic pants

  • Leggings (in some Courts this is offensive, ask your attorney)

  • Pajama bottoms/lounge wear

  • Halter tops or straps not 3 fingers in width

  • Very low cut tops

  • T-shirts (especially with logos, screen prints, and unless the Colts are playing in the Superbowl no sports team attire)

  • Tops that expose midriff

  • Backless tops

  • Pajama tops

  • Any top with holes, rips, tears,wrinkle or appear dirty (an iron is your friend)

  • Flips flops

  • Uggs or same style boots

  • Work boots

  • Sneakers ( in some Courts this is okay, always ask your attorney)

  • Crocs

  • Untied shoes/sneakers

  • And if you're in front of one judge, do not wear shoes without socks (ask your attorney, they will tell you the story)

*The above depends on the county your case is in and what judge is presiding over it.


Electronic Devices

We all have something electronic on us these days. Cellphones, watches with beeps and boops, wireless headphones, and tablets; and now courtrooms are constantly being interrupted by electronic noise. I had one incident when a person was testifying on the stand and their cellphone rang two times. The Judge was not happy, especially when it rang the second time since they had previously been instructed to turn it off.


I also recently encountered an adverse party who had called their mother on their phone while in court and was letting them listen in to the proceedings. This type of behavior can be considered direct contempt of the court as there are signs in every courthouse instructing the public to turn off all electronics (or not to bring them into the courtroom).


The best thing to do is simply turn off all devices or leave them in the car. Putting your devices on vibrate do not help as 99% of the time we will hear it vibrating. Turning them off or leaving them in the car 100% guarantees you will not annoy the judge or be found in contempt of court.


Behavior

Please do not give the opposing attorney double middle fingers, while sitting in front of the judge, behind your attorney's back. I beg you not to do this because someone will see it and you will be in trouble. This was an actual incident I dealt with a few years ago and lets just say the Judge came down hard on the misbehaving party.


The way you act the moment you step foot into the courthouse matters. You probably do not know what the opposing attorney, judge, or court clerks look like, but you can bet they will remember a person who is acting up when they see them in their courtroom. Behavior is the most important thing to control and present favorably when dealing with first impressions. Legal cases are stressful and emotions are running high, but controlling your hurt, anger, and frustration will take you far when you appear in court. Be warn, many courthouses have security cameras throughout the courthouse that can catch your behavior and be used against you, if necessary.


How to Catch More Bees with Honey:

  1. Be courteous to everyone in Court (security guards, clerks, opposing party, opposing attorney, and judge);

  2. Do not roll your eyes, scoff, laugh, snicker, snort, or peep while testifying or listening to others testify. Judges see and hear everything and this is one of their biggest pet peeves;

  3. When testifying only answer the question asked. If it is a yes or no question, just say yes or no. Do not ask questions or offer rebuttal while testifying. Keep your answers short and simple.

  4. Please only address the judge as "your honor". It shows respect to the Court and I promise your judge will appreciate it 100%.

  5. Only address the opposing party and their attorney by their names and not by; he, she, her, him, it, wicked witch, the devil, bitch, scum - it will not help you nor will anyone think it is funny.

  6. If you have an attorney, do not ask a question or speak until told to do so.

  7. Never ever come to court high or intoxicated. If you are on a prescribed medication, let your attorney know.

If you appear before the Court in nice clean attire, with no devices that will cause interruption, and are polite during the process; you've just helped your case. I promise.

And whatever you do, please do not show up to Court with pot in your underwear, like this story that appeared in Rolling Stone:


Judge Forces Defendant to Remove Bags of Weed From Underwear

Back in May, Hamilton County, Ohio, Judge Bernie Bouchard was not amused to enter his courtroom and be smacked in the face with the skunky stench of marijuana. He gave whoever was holding the contraband the opportunity to come forward before bringing in the drug dogs. Lo and behold, the offender was none other than the defendant, Darius Dabney, prompting the following delightful exchange:


MR. DABNEY: I smoked marijuana before I got here.

THE COURT: Okay. Well, do you have it on you?

MR. DABNEY: No, sir.

THE COURT: Well, it doesn’t smell to me like burnt.

MR. DABNEY: I’m cool then.

THE COURT: You’re safe, you think?

MR. DABNEY: I know I am.

THE COURT: What time did you smoke it?

MR. DABNEY: Shit, like since 9:00, 9:15. I’ll be honest about that….

THE COURT: What’s your name? Do you remember that?

MR. DABNEY: I don’t know that right now.


At that point, Judge Bouchard told Dabney he was holding him in contempt, making him spend a night in jail and giving him a $1,000 fine. But Dabney’s conscience wasn’t yet completely clean:


THE COURT: Now, listen to me, Mr. Dabney. If you got it on you it’s going to be a felony when they strip you over there so I’ll give you one last time to tell me if you have any unburnt marijuana on you. I’m giving you — oh, ah-ha.

(Defendant pulled a bag of marijuana out of his pants.)

THE COURT: Okay. So finally you came clean. If there’s anything else, this is your opportunity. We’re going to destroy it. Are you sure?

(Defendant pulled another bag of marijuana out of his pants.)

THE COURT: Oh my lord. Anything else, I mean, because —

THE DEFENDANT: No.

THE COURT: Mr. Dabney, I’m telling you — now why would you do that? Why would you bring that much pot to court?

THE DEFENDANT: I forgot it in my car, sir.

THE COURT: You forgot it in your underwear.


You can read more funny moments from the Rolling Stone article here.

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