Proposed rule bans T-shirts, gum-chewing in courtrooms

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A new rule being considered by judges in a southwestern Indiana county would prohibit lawyers, litigants and spectators from wearing T-shirts or shorts or chewing gum in courtrooms.

The rule governing conduct and dress was released Thursday for public comment and sent to the Evansville Bar Association for distribution to its members. It also was posted in locations around the Civic Center Complex and courthouse, Superior Court Administrator Krista Hamby told the Evansville Courier & Press.

The rule also requires people to "refrain from unnecessary conversation in the courthouse that would disturb the proceedings."

Some of the conduct covered by the rule already is prohibited: bringing food and drink into courtrooms, smoking in the courthouse and creating disturbances in court.

Superior Court Judge Richard D'Amour said the rule is patterned off one from St. Joseph County. He said it began as an attempt to put into writing a local rule for courthouse security and evolved into a broader attempt to codify court decorum.

"The judges, by and large, agreed that the overall decorum of attire in society has changed over the years to the point that maybe we should remind people it's a courthouse, a court of law," he said. "I've actually had on two occasions people come to appear before me in court in pajamas. You wouldn't go to work that way. No one would go to church in pajamas."

D'Amour said the judges realize that not everybody has access to fine clothes, but that everybody should "at least have one shirt that isn't a T-shirt, and a pair of pants."

The rule would apply uniformly to all seven judges and five magistrates in Superior Court and the one judge and one magistrate in Circuit Court.

The sheriff's office would be responsible for enforcing the rule. Sheriff's deputies already provide courtroom security and help staff metal detectors at the three public entrances to the Civic Center and courthouse.

After learning of the extent of the proposed rule Friday, Sheriff David Wedding said D'Amour assured him the proposed rule would be adjusted and scaled back in some areas.

"It would be up to the individual judges to determine what is appropriate to their courtroom," Wedding said.

Deputies would enforce the rule at the judges' directions but their responsibilities would remain focused on safety, the sheriff said.

Public comment on the rule continues through June 28 before it takes effect July 1.

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