John G. Browning 2014-10-27 19:40:06
Clarifying the definition of “proper courtroom attire.” You’ve seen them … and you may even be one. You know who I’m talking about—the lawyers who just can’t seem to dress like a lawyer. They might not see the point in putting on a suit unless they’re going to court, a client meeting, or a funeral. Or they may be the type for whom business casual means wearing jeans with a button-down shirt instead of that ratty old concert T-shirt from college that still lurks in a closet. I sympathize with them, although I could never be one of them. A childhood spent in Catholic schools conditioned me to jackets and ties at an early age; life as a big-firm litigator made me grow even more accustomed to the uniform, and a particular sadistic paralegal with a penchant for scheduling end-of-week depositions and hearings robbed me of the carefree enjoyment of casual Fridays (to this day, I think she keeps a voodoo doll of me in her desk). I’ve spent more time in pinstripes than most of the New York Yankees. Of course, all of us—even those of us who long for the day when lawyers can join the ranks of professional athletes or Jimmy Buffett and ply our trade in shorts—grudgingly give in to decorum when we head to court. Well, maybe not all of us. Some lawyers out there have, shall we say, interesting interpretations of what “proper courtroom attire” means and not surprisingly have run afoul of their local judiciary as a result. For example, in August 2014, a circuit judge in Blackford County, Indiana, actually issued an “Order to Wear Socks”1 after becoming frustrated by an attorney who frequently appeared in his court sans socks. In his order, Judge Dean Young recounts how he had repeatedly advised attorney Todd Glickfield of the local rules mandating appropriate attire, only to have Glickfield say, “I hate socks,” that he’d had “this conversation with other judges in other courts,” and that he intended to continue his habit of sockless litigating unless the judge could point him to applicable “orders or other legal authority.” Never dare a judge with the legal equivalent of a 5-year-old’s you-can’t-make-me challenge. The gauntlet having been flung, Judge Young responded with his order, which stated among other things that “Attorney Glickfield is directed to never again appear for a legal proceeding in the Blackford Circuit Court unless he is entirely clad in ‘appropriate business attire’ which includes socks upon his feet.” Note the insistence on the socks’ placement, as if the judge was somehow expecting Glickfield to borrow a fashion tip from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and show up for court wearing a single strategically placed sock. Of course, sometimes a lawyer’s unconventional choice in courtroom duds may be a matter of necessity, kind of like the scene in My Cousin Vinny where Vinny shows up wearing a ridiculous-looking suit straight out of a vaudevillian’s wardrobe because his good suit got covered in mud. That was the case for Dallas criminal defense attorney James Lee Bright in April 2014, when he showed up in county criminal court wearing shorts—a necessity, Bright said, due to recent knee surgery. Despite his medical reasons, Judge Etta Mullin didn’t see it that way and wouldn’t allow Bright in her courtroom. He ultimately filed a motion to recuse the judge. Then there’s always the issue of strategy influencing one’s sartorial choices. Lawyer Michael Robb, of Palm Beach, Florida, was well known in local legal circles for wearing the same pair of ancient loafers, complete with holes in the soles, to trial for more than 12 years, supposedly to help cultivate rapport with the jury and appear to be a modest “down-home” lawyer. But before a trial in 2009, one opposing counsel actually filed a “Motion to Compel Defense Counsel to Wear Appropriate Shoes.” The motion alleged that Robb “wears these shoes as a ruse to impress the jury and make them believe that Mr. Robb is humble and simple without sophistication,” and it suggested that he “should be required to wear shoes without holes in the soles at trial to avoid unfair prejudice suggested by this conduct.” However, Circuit Judge Donald Hafele denied the motion, leaving Robb free to remain holier-than-thou in the courtroom. But few lawyers can claim to have made the legal fashion statement that Kansas lawyer Ira Dennis Hawver did on Sept. 12, 2014. Hawver was appearing before the Kansas Supreme Court to respond to disciplinary findings alleging that he had provided ineffective assistance of counsel while defending Phillip Cheatham Jr. against murder charges in 2005. The authorities recommended Hawver’s disbarment. For his own appeal to the Kansas Supreme Court, Hawver chose to channel one of the Founding Fathers—Thomas Jefferson, to be exact. Wearing a white powdered wig, a dark 18th-century suit, and long stockings, Hawver pounded the lectern as he affirmed that the First Amendment protects his actions with clients much as the Sixth Amendment protects the rights of those clients. Hawver said he dressed as Jefferson (his personal hero) to underscore what he perceived as a constitutional issue. (This wasn’t the first time Hawver dressed as his inner framer; he also wore Revolutionary War getup while campaigning as a Libertarian candidate for Congress in 2000 and 2004.) While Hawver may have been trying to make a constitutional point with his attire, judges in the United Kingdom are still wondering what to make of attorney Alan Blacker’s wig-centric wardrobe choices. In a legal system that already features hairpieces and robes for its barristers, Blacker earned the ire of Judge David Wynn Morgan during a recent appearance in Cardiff Crown Court in Wales. Representing a man who was convicted the previous year of dangerous driving that resulted in a cyclist’s death, solicitor Blacker showed up wearing a gown, barrister’s wig, and colorful ribbons and medals pinned to his gown. Blacker also referred to himself as “Lord Harley” during the proceeding. Judge Morgan was not amused, telling the would-be barrister, “If you ever appear looking like something out of Harry Potter, you can forget coming before this court ever again.” Blacker claimed that he wore the outfit and medals to ensure that he appeared as qualified in front of a jury as a barrister in a crown court and “to balance the playing field.” So when you go to court, you might as well avoid incurring judicial wrath or inviting sanctions and wear “proper courtroom attire.” And for those of you who may have patterned yourselves too closely after The Simpsons resident lawyer Lionel Hutz (voiced by the late, great Phil Hartman), one last bit of advice: wear pants. NOTES 1. Order Directing Proper Attire Be Worn By Todd A. Glickfield https://www.scribd.com/doc/238460391/Sock-memo. JOHN G. BROWNING is the administrative partner of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith in Dallas, where he handles civil litigation in state and federal courts in areas ranging from employment and intellectual property to commercial cases and defense of products liability, professional liability, media law, and general negligence matters. He also serves as an adjunct professor at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law, where he teaches the course “Social Media and the Law.”
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