Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"It's Our Courtroom"

I’m in court this morning to waive a preliminary hearing and the deputies are telling a woman in the front row, who’s sitting with her child, that she has to leave. The judge hasn’t entered yet; the deputies are simply preparing for this case, in which a 19-year old Elkhorn, NE kid is charged with killing his father after the father had an affair with the son’s girlfriend.

The details of the alleged crime, which have run in the paper for days, are going to be ugly and I hear the deputies talking about the woman not being able to stay in court with her kids. So I say, not to them but to another attorney, “They can’t make her leave, not just for bringing her kids into court.” The deputy standing closest to me turn to me and says, “Yes we can, it’s our courtroom.” I have to do a two-minute prelim waiver, have to then go to the jail to meet with both a new and a new client and then have to rush back to the office to write a brief, so I don’t have the time nor the interest in debating with this guy who thinks the courtroom belongs to him and his friends who carry guns.

But think about the implications of this scenario. The deputies decide, without asking the judge, that kids should have to leave “their courtroom” since the testimony might not be appropriate. They don’t bother to check the law, the court rules or even check with the judge; they just decide she can’t stay.

I didn’t intervene, like I probably should have, and the woman doesn’t seem particulary bothered. I decide that I have “no dog in that fight” and let it go. But the implications, and the raw display of power, bug me. So I check the Court Rule, § 6-201, which says,

as a general principle it is the view of the judiciary of the State of Nebraska that proceedings should be open to the public at all times and only closed, in whole or in part, where evidence presented to the court establishes that by permitting all or part of the proceeding to remain open to the public, a party's right to a fair trial will be substantially and adversely affected and there are no other reasonable alternatives available to protect against such substantial and adverse effect.

I’ll find the judge tomorrow and tell her the story, so she knows that the courtroom she presides over was partially “cleaned out” before she came in, and that the deputies didn’t feel the need to consult with her before they decided who could stay or go. I won’t mention names, or get anyone in trouble, but want to make sure the guys with guns know they don’t get to control the courtroom, or disregard its rules without a consequence.

1 comment:

gorden said...

Wow. I actually learned something.

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