I got a comment (via Facebook) from a lawyer on my blog entry, Jury Duty in Sneakers. It wasn’t about the sneakers, but (from what I can tell) something I said about how trying to be a barefoot juror really doesn’t fit the definition of contempt of court.
So, how dangerous is it to attempt to be a barefoot juror?
Here’s the comment that I got:
[T]echnically yes, but a judge may be less than amused. I wouldn’t play this game myself.
That’s true—you never know how a judge will react. Some of them can be real sticklers. On the other hand, I’ve seen a lot in action and many are just trying to go with the flow to get their job done.
Another thing to keep in mind is that attorneys are officially “officers of the court” and have duties and responsibilities that ordinary citizens do not (even those called to jury duty). I mentioned a few cases regarding attire for lawyers in Barefoot Jury Duty.
My strong suspicion is that, particularly if one followed some of the steps I wrote about contacting the Jury Manager or Administrative Judge in advance, you could pretty easily find out where you stood without getting in trouble. (And then if you wanted to get in trouble to make a point, you’d also know where you stood!)
But what I wanted to write about here is that judges really can be accommodating. This is what happened to me during oral argument at the appeals level in my lawsuit against the Fairfield County District Library. This was in the Fifth District Court of Appeals for Ohio.
They travel around their district to hear the cases. For my case, this meant we were in the Licking County Courthouse (yes, the same Licking County with the recent issue of the Barefoot McDonalds).
Now, I had given a lot of thought about whether to appear barefoot before the court for my oral argument. On the one hand, others advised me that since I am a full-time barefooter, I would be able to impress that upon the court by appearing before them barefoot. Wrapped up in that are issues of the pain and discomfort of shoes (how distracting would that be to me) and spiritual considerations. On the other hand, as the lawyer alluded to, would it be seen as a game, and would I spend all my time arguing with the judges over whether I could appear barefoot before them.
In the end I decided to be shod. I was trying to be as lawyerly as possible, and I would have to put up with the physical and mental inconveniences. But I was prepared in case they asked me why I wasn’t barefoot, with a (true) line to use:
I’m here to argue this case, not some different theoretical case of whether I can appear barefoot before you.
And that is important.
Now, one of the things I did to prepare (in addition to traveling around to watch other oral arguments with these judges, just to get the feel of them) was to go to the Licking County Courthouse in advance. I wanted to know the feel of the building and to know exactly where the proper courtroom was. On the day my case was heard I didn’t want to be fumbling around worrying about not finding the right room.
So I scouted things out. For that I was barefoot. All I was doing was walking around the interior of the courthouse and getting familiar with it.
I had no trouble going through security, and satisfied myself with the layout of the building.
Then came the day of oral arguments. I arrived early, quite early. I go into the courtroom and this gentleman was there.
He was dressed in shorts, a T-shirt, and sandals, and was tidying up the courtroom. While doing so, he was joking with some of the other people there, including a court clerk and another court person of some sort.
And they start talking about how there was going to be a barefoot case that morning. They were even concerned that there might be some sort of demonstration associated with it (there we get hit with the hippie association again!), and joked that they kept a billy club behind the bench, just in case.
It turns out that the guy in the T-shirt and shorts was (and is) Robert Hoover, the Juvenile and Probate Court Judge for Licking County. [In an odd coincidence, he and Jeff Gill of the Newark Earthworks Center know each other quite well, since one of the hats Jeff wears is as a court advocate for juveniles. Not that I knew this at the time.] Since the Appeals Court travels, they were using his courtroom for the day, and he was making sure it was all tidied up! Sure surprised the heck out of me.
And I surprised him. When I introduced myself, he exclaimed, “But you are wearing shoes!”
It turns out that these people really were expecting me to show up barefoot. In fact, knowing the case (and it could be that somebody saw me during my scouting visit and that started the inquiry), they had checked their own rules, and even called up to the 5th District Main Office to see if they would have to stop me from arguing barefoot. The word had come back down that it was OK.
I still wore my shoes. Again, I was trying to win the case, and I was trying to act as much like as attorney as possible, without distractions. [By the way, a recording of that oral argument is here. The room had really lousy acoustics, so it is mostly incomprehensible. And no, I did not get to use my line about why I was wearing shoes.]
So, I think that story illustrates that judges and courts might be a lot more accommodating than we might otherwise think, and that trying to do barefoot jury duty might not be as difficult as we think. It is certainly worth a shot if you can approach it without being belligerent or trying to tick off the judge.
[Photo from here.]
After all, Lady Justice may be blind, but she is also barefoot.