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From the Bench: Courtroom civility, dignity and solemnity maintained

From the Bench - Judge Ann Carrott

I recently attended a panel discussion about civility in our society. The discussion about “civil discourse” made me reflect on the environment where I spend my day: the courtroom.

Civility is required by court rules. “Dignity and solemnity” must be maintained in the courtroom. (Minnesota General Rules of Practice 2.01.)

“There shall be no unnecessary conversation, loud whispering, newspaper or magazine reading or other distracting activity in the courtroom while court is in session.” (Minnesota General Rules of Practice 2.01.)

The judges and attorneys have additional requirements for their behavior in the courtroom (Minnesota General Rules of Practice 2.02 and 2.03) and, as in most states, are required to take an oath that includes the promise to maintain “civility” when practicing law. (Minnesota Statute 358.07.)

Why is there such an emphasis on civility in the courtroom? The courtroom is a public place where people are to resolve disputes in an orderly manner. In order for that to happen, certain rules of decorum (behavior) must be followed.

For example, cell phones may not be permitted in the courtroom and, in some counties, not in the courthouse at all. This is to avoid distractions during hearings and trials and give everyone the opportunity to hear what is happening in the courtroom.

Language and behavior must be respectful, not just to the judge but to all persons in the courtroom. Personal attire must be appropriate. In other words, you should not come to court in clothes that you would wear to the beach.

When a judge enters the courtroom, all persons must stand. This is a custom carried over from the English courts and is a sign of respect for the court.

When you are in a courtroom, you do not get to say whatever you want at any time you want. A court reporter is transcribing or recording everything said in the courtroom and cannot do so if multiple people talk at the same time.

The order in which people get to speak is determined by court rules and the judge. Unless you are a party in a case or a witness in a case, you may observe but you do not get to speak.

The bottom line is that court proceedings are formal. You must be on your best behavior and don’t expect it to be like on television. Sorry, Judge Judy.

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The honorable Ann Carrott is a Seventh District Court Judge chambered in Alexandria.