Appearing in court

Father David Epps's picture

Over the course of my life I have been in court numerous times. Because of my past involvement with child protective services and law enforcement, and my work in ministry for several decades, I suppose I have been to court dozens of times. I never fail to be amazed about what people wear and how they behave when they are about to appear before a judge.

A judge has the ability to dramatically alter one’s wealth and freedom. And judges, like other people, are human — appearances matter. Perhaps appearances shouldn’t matter, but this is not a perfect world so matter they do.

In my last appearance in a court room, I had the opportunity to read some T-shirts. One fellow wore a shirt that said, “Make love, not babies.” Not a shirt with a high moral tone. Several had on shirts that served as beer commercials. Not smart if you are charged with DUI.

One young woman came to court dressed — actually, it would be more accurate to say she came to the court undressed — as though she had just stepped off the beach. When she entered the courtroom, every male eye followed her every move. Dressed in short shorts that were low cut and a skimpy halter top, she attracted the attention of a police officer who quietly and privately told her to leave. I discovered later that he told her to go put some clothes on.

Sometimes, the officers have to remind the men to take off their ball caps in court. Young people are the worst offenders which, I imagine, is the result of parents not taking the time to let their kid know that appearing before a judge, who holds their life in his hand, is a really big deal.

The other problems I noticed were of speech and respect. Often, when the judge asked a question, the response would be a “Yeah,” or a “Naw.” Someone needs to remind those that have bumped up against the law that the judge is to be addressed as “Your Honor,” and that the answers to the judge should always include that designation or, at the least, the words, “sir,” or “ma’am.”

One also does not want to engage in eye-rolling, huffs and puffs, sighs, angry stares or expressions, or slouching. Don’t wear an iPod into court. If you are a guy, take out the nose rings and lip piercings, and wear a shirt that covers the skin art. Again, in a perfect world ... but a perfect world it is not.

On the other hand, there was a young lady, about 18, who came dressed as if she were going to church. She looked like a respectful person from a good family. She accepted responsibility for her actions, spoke with respect, and, in turn, was accorded respect. She could have lost her license and, while her penalty was not paltry, I thought that she got a break.

Another young man of about 18 came dressed in a suit. Charged with littering, he admitted his fault, shared with the judge that he was about to be a college freshman, and asked for mercy. He could have received a $375 fine. The judge fined him $175 — a stiff fine, but less than half what the judge could have imposed.

Some people go into a court room believing that they are in control. They are not. The attitude needs to stay in the parking lot and the grunge clothes and the causal attire need to remain at home. Your life and your checkbook are on the line. It won’t hurt to dress up and to show a little respect and humility.

Who knows? Maybe it will turn into a habit.

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