WHAT SHOULD I EXPECT?
Questions often arise from those who are not familiar with Circuit Court and District Court as to what to expect during a trial or hearing. These questions come from litigants, jurors, witnesses, and other persons attending.
WHAT IS THE PROPER DRESS?
While attorneys should always be dressed in a suit or coat and tie, others are not expected to be so attired. From the litigant's standpoint, you will want to be dressed in such a manner as to show respect for the proceedings. It may be by wearing a coat and tie, a shirt and tie, or a dress shirt and slacks. Litigants should not underdress, but do their best to be attired appropriately. There is no set rule for litigants and, for the most part, litigants will discuss this with their attorneys who will indicate what is proper.
Witnesses will be appearing before the court and should also be dressed appropriately, especially avoiding baggy pants, shorts, tee-shirts (especially with inappropriate messages), hats or caps, tank tops, et cetera. Should one arrive dressed inappropriately, it will be in the judge's discretion whether to allow the appearance. Judges are all different but each one will require appropriate dress.
Spectators should also be dressed in such a manner as to show respect for the proceedings, but their dress may not be quite as dressy as litigants. There is no rule but most of the attire should be "dressy casual." You will not be singled out or embarrassed because of your attire unless you arrive dressed inappropriately.
WHAT IS THE PROPER CONDUCT IN COURT?
All persons in court should be attentive and quiet. Many times, there are questions that may not be understood correctly if there is noise from the courtroom. Even whispering is distractive to the court and court personnel. Each word during a trial or hearing must be transcribed in writing by the court reporter. Any noise may prevent an accurate reporting of the proceedings. If you must have a conversation, please leave the courtroom quietly and have your conversations outside the courtroom.
During a jury trial, there should be no contact with the jury. It is the jury's duty to listen to all the evidence and the argument of attorneys and it is vital for any litigants or spectators to refrain from any reactions to testimony or evidence. Should this occur, a spectator may be asked to leave the courtroom and, in some cases, held in contempt of court for their interference.
Spectators should have no conversations with jurors at any point during the trial. The jurors will be asked to report to the court any contact that is made. This could be a most serious offense and summarily punished by fine or imprisonment. Even after the trial, no one should approach the jurors about their decisions.
For the most part, remain seated unless you must leave; and, if you must leave, do so quietly. Each judge has his or her own way to insure that the courtroom remains respectful to all concerned.
When there is a trial before the court, without a jury, the same rules apply. We have what are called the "regular" days of court when uncontested matters and some other shorter matters are heard. You should follow the advice of your attorney in what and when to say something. Spectators should never shout out; however, if there is an important matter to address, one should contact the Bailiff. If there is an emergency, contact the Bailiff.
There should be no active cell phones in the courtroom. All cell phones must be turned off. Placing a cell phone on "silent" or "vibration" will still cause the court reporter problems. If a cell phone rings in the courtroom, it may be confiscated for a length of time to be determine by the judge.
The judge will usually call a recess during the morning and during the afternoon. This is for the litigants, spectators, jurors, and other court personnel to get a drink, make a quick call, and also for the judge to take care of some other business of the court which may or may not be related to the case presently before the court. Sometimes, this seem to be more lengthy than one would expect. Be assured that there is court business going on that is absolutely necessary even though you do not know precisely what is happening.
During the recess, you should continue to conduct yourself properly, but DO NOT have any contact with jurors or witnesses.
FINAL VERDICT OR DECISION
Under no circumstances should there be any demonstration after the decision of the court or jury is made. The time for reactions is after the court has adjourned and you have left the courtroom. It is important that every aspect of the trial be conducted in an atmosphere that will promote the appearance of a fair and impartial trial. One should never contact the judge outside the courtroom during a trial as the judge is prohibited from having this kind of contact, except on rare exceptions. There is nothing improper in visiting with a judge in a social setting, but one should never attempt to discuss any trial or pending case with him or her.