Friday, April 25, 2014

Courtroom Civility and Decorum, Where Has It Gone?

                                        Montgomery County Courthouse, Norristown, Pa.
                                                                         /Mercury Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

     As I sat in a Montgomery County Courtroom last week covering the trial of three defendants charged with killing a West Pottsgrove man during a violent home invasion robbery, it struck me that civility and decorum in public places really has become an afterthought for some. A friend and supporter of one of the defendants repeatedly entered the courtroom throughout the week, his soiled, baggy jeans hanging below his waistline, displaying his underwear and rear-end to all the courtroom spectators. Each day, court crier Bruce Saville, a former county detective, had to remind the young man to pull them up.
    On the final day of the trial, as the verdict was about to be announced and tension was mounting, Judge Wendy Demchick-Alloy reminded some of the spectators that she wasn't amused by the brashness they displayed throughout the week,  at times being disrespectful in the court of law by talking loudly.
     I see it on a daily basis - ragged T-shirts with inappropriate phrases; caps worn in court; low-cut blouses revealing way too much cleavage; short skirts that leave nothing to the imagination; and yes, way too many saggy jeans displaying way too much butt. No one wants  or needs to see it!
     Honestly, I'm not a prude, but my mother taught me that when you leave the house headed for a public place such as school or court you should dress appropriately. Some old-timers here at Swede and Airy can recall a time when people dressed for court, men in suits or shirts and ties, and women in dresses, even for jury duty. Did the advent of so-called casual Fridays change the way people think about daily attire?
     I'm not a sociologist so I won't speculate on the reasons for the lack of decorum or incivility.
     But I have to give kudos to Demchick-Alloy for demanding decorum in her courtroom.
     Last September, a short, form-fitting, black, sleeveless dress was inappropriate attire for court and Demchick-Alloy let a Pottstown woman know it with a stern dressing-down. The woman's cocktail dress couldn't hide scratches on her arm, which she sustained in a fight.
     “You’re not dressed for court. Don’t come to court like you’re going to the beach or a nightclub,” Demchick-Alloy scolded the 20-year-old woman who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge stemming from a June 2013 disturbance in Pottstown. "Next time you come to court cover up."
     Earlier this month, Demchick-Alloy, who as a former prosecutor had a reputation for being "a pitbull in heels," scolded another defendant who apparently believed it was dress-down day in court.
     When the Philadelphia man arrived to court for his hearing wearing sagging jeans with holes that revealed a little too much backside, a stern Demchick-Alloy gave him a dressing-down of a different sort.
     “Your pants are completely ripped and rear end is hanging out the back. You come in here looking like a complete slob, which is disrespectful,” Demchick-Alloy scolded the man as he pleaded guilty to a summary disorderly conduct charge in connection with a 2011 disturbance in Cheltenham.
     The 26-year-old man told the judge he works in demolition and that he was wearing a belt in court. But the judge wasn’t impressed by the man’s excuses, reminding him his attire wasn’t proper for court, and added, “You could have made an effort.”
     The judge told the man she was reluctant to have him stand, for fear his pants would fall down, as she imposed his sentence.
     “Keep them pulled up sir, I don’t need to see your rear end,” Demchick-Alloy said with a strict tone in her voice.   

     As Mercury editors pointed out in a column last week: "The judge's comments were a statement about the lack of respect becoming all too prevalent in dress and language. Others among us warrant a similar dressing down."
     I couldn't agree more.

HERE ARE LINKS TO DRESS-DOWN DAYS IN MONTCO COURT                                      
cocktail dress-down

sagging jeans dress-down

Note: Mercury file photo of Demchick-Alloy by Kevin Hoffman.

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