Lawyers shuffled in and out of the courtroom passing what appeared to be casual remarks and the public began to trickle into the Norwich City courtroom.
Having more time than I knew what to do with, I couldnít help but notice the average dress for a typical defendant.
Sitting from my chair, I waited for the case I had come to watch begin and in the meantime the routine matters of the court went on with frequent pauses between.
I glanced around the room of about 16 attendants, most appearing before the judge and a few sitting by for support.
I counted slowly with subtle glances to the right and left, keeping a hidden tally on my notepad.
Six of the 16 other people sitting in the room were wearing sweat pants. Two sets of hot pink, two sets of grays (which seemed a more formal color), one fading blue-green and one set of black stretch pants.
It was October and still about 50 to 55 degrees, yet there I sat staring at what I can only describe as a jeweled pair of beaded sandals. There are five other pairs of open-toed feet staring at me in the courtroom. A striped pair of blue and orange flip flops, with what appears to be motor oil stains covering parts of them, make a valiant effort in strangling feet about two sizes too large.
Not a single person in the crowd is wearing a tie. Only two dress shirts, neither tucked in, and two pairs of khakis.
A lone woman accompanying her casually-dressed daughter is wearing dress pants, a nice blouse and a formal jacket. She must have felt embarrassed sticking out so clearly from the rest of the crowd.
At first I wondered if she was an attorney. Iím sure others wondered or just assumed too Ė what kind of person gets dressed up for court these days? Even the assistant district attorney eyed her with a strange look as if trying to remember a forgotten defense lawyerís name.
Obviously someone was out of touch with the going fashions in our local judicial system, and it was distracting the lowered expectations.
The trend-setters sported their fading led Zeppelin T-shirts and tie-dyed attire. I count them with the roaming thoughts; four have something psychedelically dyed. A well-placed cigarette pack in a tight front jean pocket is so in, if you can afford it, otherwise a bummed fag tucked into the ear works just as good. I see two flaunting the style.
There are three people wearing shirts without sleeves and as Iím trying to see if I can detect traces of deodorant, I hear a sound ... chewing? I look around and count the two people with gum, no wait that lady just asked for a piece, make it three.
The judge finally comes in and court starts. As Iím watching, a bailiff stands before us and reviews the basic rules of court, which are sort of like being in a movie theater Ė no talking, turn off cell phones, no throwing popcorn.
Despite the crash course of courtroom etiquette, I noted that the judge critiqued a number of the defendants.
ďI canít hear you with gum in your mouth, son,Ē the judge quips at one man standing before him on a petit larceny charge.
The most remarkable moment came when one of the younger guys in the crowd stood up as his friend approached the bench. While his friend stated his case, this guy walked over and began taking cell phone pictures of his associate in court.
I have to admit I stared. For your information, no one is permitted to take photographs of a courtroom in New York State without the express permission of the presiding judge. The man quickly attempted to leave the courtroom with the pictures on his phone but was stopped by security, who then made him rifle through his electronic albums.
Iíve not had much reason to appear in court as a participant, but in past years Iíve had to pay a speeding ticket or two in local village courts. Iíd always go wearing my suit and Iíd always leave feeling like I was way over dressed for the occasion. Of the three times Iíve appeared, I once had a woman ask me if I was the prosecutor.
Twice judges called me up first to hear my matter despite the fact I wasnít the first to arrive. They leaned over the bench eyeing me with a bit of confusion and asked, ďWhatís your business before the court today?Ē In high school when I told the Village of Oxford Judge I only had a speeding ticket, he actually laughed at me.
I canít count the number of times Iíve heard a judge compliment the occasional tie-wearing defendant. It makes a difference, it shows respect and most importantly it demonstrates your level of seriousness. If I show up in my New York Giants Starter pajamas, like the defendant who did in his Buffalo Bills ensemble, how could I even expect to be taken seriously?
I donít know why I noticed all this that one day. Maybe I had too much time on my hands. The more I think about it though, the more Iím bothered by the idea no one else seems to.