I was in courtrooms for more than a decade as a bailiff in the Supreme Court of Georgia and a court officer in the Bradley County Sessions Court under the Honorable Andrew F. Bennett Jr.
In the Georgia Supreme Court there were no audiences inside the huge white marble structure, only attorneys who presented 30-minute oral arguments in death penalty cases before seven Supreme Court Justices whose imposing bench elevated them above those standing before them. The atmosphere was quiet and composed. I usually made the most noise when I struck the gavel after getting a nod from the Chief Justice.
In smaller courtrooms, however, the noise and commotion often rivals a highly anticipated sporting event. In the sessions court where I worked, the tension was thick. You could actually feel it.
The atmosphere was a beehive of activity with lawyers calling out to their clients, the D.A. doing a roll call, late comers asking if their name had been called, people complaining, joking, laughing, arguing — getting louder and louder until the door opened in the judge’s chamber and one of his court officers appeared with a resounding cry, “All rise! Court is now in session! The honorable Judge Bennett is presiding!”
The room went silent. You coul hear a pin drop as the judge entered. Once the court officer said “You may be seated,” the noise resumed, but at a lower level.
Judge Bennett would then announce to the audience, “When I call your name, sound off and let me know you’re here. I’m not looking up to see if you are here. So if you don’t sound off I’m going to put your paperwork on the bottom.”
Prior to his arrival, I often addressed the audience to tell them to be sure to shout out “Here!” or “Present!” when the judge called their name or he would put you in the “no-shows” category. No one wanted to be in the no-shows and spend an entire day sitting in court until their name was called again. So, the tension was thick in the room.
Facing the audience, I watched every wide-eyed, anxious individual as he or she watched the judge pick up a stack of warrants and proceed to call out names. It never ceased to amaze me, however, that a handful of individuals would stand up or come forward without saying a word. Others would raise their hands or remained silent in their seats. It never failed. It reminded me of Jesus’ words at Luke 8:18, to “Pay attention to how you listen.” — New Living Translation.
In a tension-filled, adrenaline pumping environment, your nerves may get rattled with all the noise around you. So it is important to “pay attention to how you listen.” For some, this may mean taking notes to concentrate. Others may have to ask for an announcement to be repeated or repeat the statement to themselves. Here are a few tips to consider if you must appear in court for some offense.
First, do not panic. Take a deep breath and try to relax. Listen carefully to all instructions. Stay focused. Remember, yours is not the only case in the room. Names may not be called in alphabetical order. So be patient. It may be a little embarrassing, but believe it or not, all eyes are not on you. Try to get through this as quickly and quietly as possible.
Second, if you are in court for the first time to be arraigned, understand, this is not the time to speak. Your charges may be read to you if you do not understand them. The judge will give you time to get a lawyer, make a plea or have a hearing and a trial if you wish. At your arraignment you will be given a date and time to return to court. Failures to appear could result in incarceration and an additional charge.
Third, always wait for the judge to acknowledge you before addressing the court. Avoid interrupting the judge, and never approach the bench without permission. If you speak to inmates or try to pass them anything without the court’s permission, you may be asked to leave or find yourself in real trouble with the law.
Fourth, always bring as much money as you can when coming to court. If you plead guilty and there are fines and court costs to be paid, you may be able to resolve your case quickly and avoid being placed on probation until those fines are paid. Probation can be costly in more ways than one.
Finally, keep in mind that real court is not like television shows. Theatrics are frowned upon. Being discourteous to clerks and those in authority can have a backlash. You may find yourself the very last person seen at the end of the day. So follow the Bible’s advice at Romans 13:7, “Pay everyone what you owe them. Pay the taxes you owe, pay the duties you are charged, give respect to those you should respect, and honor those you should honor.” — Common English Bible.
Some things may change in court. That won’t. Just remember, if you take it all in stride and learn from your experience, this may be your last time in court — at least until we stand before “the Judgement seat of God.” — Romans 14:10.
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