Let’s make the Criminal Courthouse a civil courthouse

4-13-18

Friends-

It takes a certain personality to daily verbally abuse a courtroom full of people, but they do it. Before the judge comes out, in loud rough voices bailiffs and court personnel daily greet the accused by shouting the court’s many rules.

“Turn off your phones, no family, no talking, pay attention, when your name is called stand, tuck in that shirt, Say if you have a lawyer, No gum, no drinks, no unauthorized breathing.”

All this is barked at the accused sometimes in the Hall, sometimes in the courtroom. For the accused who has never experienced the Harris County Criminal Justice system it must be intimidating. It is most assuredly designed to intimidate. It’s the accused’s first inkling that they may be in for a rough ride.

Once, a few years ago, I walked into a silent packed court. Everyone in the audience looked terrified. Apparently they had already been bullied into silence, terrified to make a sound or move. The judge was not yet on the bench.

As I opened the rail, a bailiff angrily shouted across the courtroom at me. “ TAKE A SEAT. HIS HONOR WILL BE OUT SOON!”

Without thinking I shouted back at the startled bailiff at the exact level the bailiff had shouted at me,

“ OK I AM TAKING A SEAT!”

The bailiff glared at me. I looked back.

I am more than sick of the rough manner in which some bailiffs and court personnel start each day by bullying and shouting at the accused. And you know what? We dont have to put up with this. There are rules.

Canon 3 B.(4) of the Texas Judicial Canons says that a judge should be “patient, dignified and courteous to litigants”. This same Canon says that a judge should require similar conduct of staff and court officials subject to the judge’s control. Basically, all this discourteous behavior by these screaming bailiffs and court personnel is in direct violation of the judicial Canons. Restated, the judges are in daily violation of the Canons when they let their staff abuse the accused.

How about we point out the Canon and encourage a cultural change? Judges, if your staffs continue to abuse the public each morning, we will file complaints on you with the Commission on Judicial Conduct.

We dont want to do that. Instead, why don’t you judges encourage a little civility? How about the Bailiffs get a little lesson in manners and setting a tone of fairness. Some bailiffs, the more self-assured one’s, already act with civility. Their conduct can serve as a role model for their less civil colleagues.

How about we encourage the judges to make their bailiff’s started Court this way:

“ Good Morning Everyone. You are in County Criminal Court #83, Judge Jack Hammer presiding. Before his Honor comes out I need to share with you some of the rules of court. Please pay attention as these rules apply to everyone.Please turn off your phone.Please tuck in your shirt. Please … You get the picture.

The culture of the courthouse does not have to be one of daily verbal abuse. Isn’t there enough misery with people going to prison? How about we talk to the judiciary in the year ahead and encourage them to require that their bailiff’s act with civility. If they’re going to make people come to court for unnecessary settings, they can at least be civil.

Robb Fickman

Houston, Texas

About Robert Fickman

Robert Fickman is a criminal defense attorney with 33 years experience in defending the citizen accused in both state and federal court. He is a past president of HCCLA and remains active in its mission.

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