Order in the court Howard County: 'Judge Manners' deserves praise for trying to revive courtroom civility.

April 01, 1996

CASUAL IS COOL in America today. At worship, at work or any place in between, you're likely to find people dressing and acting in a manner that years ago would have been deemed inappropriately informal. Today, it is believed that inhibiting a person's dress could place undesired limits on his ability to interact positively with others who might also feel constrained by a demanded uniformity of appearance. A recognized problem, though, of this casual approach to life in which "yes, sir" and "no, ma'am" are rarely heard is the ease with which it can sometimes lead to at least the perception of disrespect, if not outright disdain. That must not be in a court of law, where contempt is expressly prohibited.

This is where Howard County Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney enters the picture. Trying to restore time-honored traditions to the courtroom, he has compiled "29 Rules for Exquisitely Correct Courtroom Conduct," a list of do's and don'ts for lawyers. The four-page list covers everything from tardiness to eating and drinking in the courtroom to an admonition that lawyers should never "attack your sister or brother counsel unless you have no other option. Even then, consider not doing it." Lawyers are also told to always stand when addressing the court and to never be so disrespectful in court as to address a judge as "judge."

Mr. Sweeney says it is obvious that some young lawyers have never been taught proper manners for a court appearance. They don't know they should call a judge "your honor" or that they should address adult witnesses by their surname with a courtesy title. He says times have changed from the days when younger lawyers were always accompanied by older mentors who showed them the ropes until they were adequately schooled on correct courtroom etiquette. Judge Sweeney's emphasis on decorum has earned him the nickname "Judge Manners." He should be proud of the moniker. Other Maryland jurists should make use of his written code of conduct.

A court appearance should not be taken lightly. Though even the most serious matters dealt with by jurists can provide moments of levity, even comedy, it is important that respect never becomes a casualty of informality. Judge Sweeney wants everyone in his court treated with respect. That's the way it ought to be.

Pub Date: 4/01/96

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