09/30/09 — Judge enforces code for dress in courtroom

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Judge enforces code for dress in courtroom

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on September 30, 2009 1:46 PM

Skip the cutoff shorts, tank tops and other casual wear when appearing in Wayne County Superior Court, the court's presiding judge says -- or be sent home to change.

Although courtroom decorum has always been an issue, newly elected Judge Arnold O. Jones has issued decidedly more stringent rules for courtroom attire.

Visitors to the court are welcomed by large-lettered signs that warn defendants about shorts, hats and ringing cell phones.

"Starting in January, I have gotten some rules in place that I believe are important," Jones said. "(The rules) are showing not only respect for the defendants themselves, but respect for the court."

Although previous Judge Jerry Braswell was also known for sending home court participants dressed inappropriately at times, Jones' rules are hard and fast, District Attorney Branny Vickory said.

"The way people dress, a lot of times, reflects their degree of respect for the institution," the district attorney said. "I think Judge Jones is taking it more to a new level, by making sure that they put signs up outside.

"(With the signs) ... You can't get in the court and say you didn't understand that you were to be dressed appropriately," Vickory said.

Vickory said the judge is not expecting people to show up in jacket and tie. However, the district attorney said it's remarkable what some people will wear to court.

"It's amazing what people will wear," the district attorney said. "Cut-off blue jeans and a tank top. Women with all their privates exposed."

The changes, Vickory said, "are really helpful to court in general." People in court wearing the appropriate attire seem to be less prone to speaking out inappropriately, the district attorney said.

The judge agreed that having everyone wearing the proper attire to court has a psychological impact on people working with the justice system.

"(With) this rule, I think people in general realize that I'm there to do my job. I'm there to treat the court with respect," Jones said. "I'm also there to treat the court staff, the bailiffs and the defendants with utmost respect.

The changes are incremental, the judge admits, but he believes they are a positive step toward creating a professional courthouse environment.

"Some people might think that these things (dress code) are small, but it's those steps that we take that add up to greater things," the judge said.

Jones said he gives defendants an hour to get back to court. The judge said no defendant has yet had a problem arriving back at court in time -- and if they failed to appear, an order for their arrest would be issued.

"They need to go home and change before we can do anything with their case," Jones said.