There are lots of things you can do by virtue of your job as a circuit court judge.You can (in no particular order of importance- and BTW the following is not directed at any particular judge…if the robe fits…)
Deny motions without reading them; have your JA refuse to put motions on calendar without lawyers first faxing them to you (although you don’t read them); start court whenever you want; show up late; finish court whenever you want; make juries stay until midnight in a misguided effort to show everyone how hard you work; lecture lawyers from the bench about how you tried every case you had within sixty days of inception (in other words, lie); brag about how you are on the short list for an appointment to a higher court (ditto); and otherwise feel that you and only you stand between the rule of law and anarchy.
Here’s what you must do: follow the law.
Which means here’s what you can’t do:
Have your bailiff close your courtroom to anyone at anytime without proper notice to the media and a hearing on an issue; tell people how to dress when they come to court (wearing a shirt that says “fuck you” has been held to be an expression of free speech under the First Amendment – which is part of the Constitution, which is a legal document that defines the ….oh never mind it’s a bit complicated.)
You also CANNOT take personal property of people, without following Florida’s Forfeiture Statute (and it’s not entirely clear a member of the judiciary can be a “seizing agency” under the statute. ). Which means that in order to seize the personal property of an individual, there must be an allegation that the property was used to violate Florida’s contraband laws; see, Fla. Stat. Ann. § 932.703 (West)
(1)(a) Any contraband article, vessel, motor vehicle, aircraft, other personal property, or real property used in violation of any provision of the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act, or in, upon, or by means of which any violation of the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act has taken or is taking place, may be seized and shall be forfeited subject to the provisions of the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act.
Contraband is defined as, inter alia:
5. Any personal property, including, but not limited to, any vessel, aircraft, item, object, tool, substance, device, weapon, machine, vehicle of any kind, money, securities, books, records, research, negotiable instruments, or currency, which was used or was attempted to be used as an instrumentality in the commission of, or in aiding or abetting in the commission of, any felony, whether or not comprising an element of the felony, or which is acquired by proceeds obtained as a result of a violation of the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act.
So, oh wise robed one, pray tell what felony is the person who brings a cell phone into your courtroom, and listens to something on the cellphone with earphones, or takes a picture or video recording of court proceedings, committing?
We will save you research (which is where you open a book and read a case and ….never mind, it’s complicated)- THERE IS NO FELONY THAT ANYONE IS COMMITTING WHEN THEY LISTEN TO HEADPHONES IN YOUR COURTROOM OR VIDEO OR PHOTOGRAPH THE PROCEEDINGS.
We often see a representative of the media taking footage of a proceeding. David Ovalle (Miami Herald/San Diego Chargers) has been known to whip out a camera and take a few shots. We don’t see your bailiff wresting David to the ground or taking away his camera. There are no exceptions for the media (nor being a fan of a losing football team) that confers upon Mr. Ovalle an exception not available to us, our client, our client’s girlfriend or aunt or friend.
Sorry. We know this offends your sense of dignity. We know you believe yourself to be mostly all powerful. But you are not. We are a nation of rules and laws. We are a State of rules and laws. And to quote the last part of the standard jury instruction in criminal cases, “no one of us has the right to violate those laws.”
Now, no one is telling you that you don’t have the right to remove individuals (not a class of people) from your courtroom for being disruptive or disturbing. Of course you can. People must be quiet so you can make the important decisions you make. And you have contempt powers for people who do not follow the lawful rules of the court. But if we choose to sit quietly in the back of your courtroom and video your wise decisions during arraignments, (“deny bond, set the case for trial”- truly awe inspiring stuff) while quietly listening to NWA on a pair of headsets, there really isn’t a damn thing you can do about it.
See you in court, where quite frankly our tastes run move to Gilbert and Sullivan (The Mikado and HMS Pinafore, not really Pirates) than NWA. And sorry, we’re a bit cranky, but not having any coffee in the morning in court will do that to a blogger.