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What to Do When Judges Make Courtroom Speeches

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on October 16, 2017 11:57 AM

Sometimes, a judge has to speak his or her mind.

And when a judge steps down from the bench, walks down to the well and addresses the courtroom audience, it's really time to listen. It's not about the record; it's about the lesson.

That's the law between the lines. Here's what to do when judges make speeches in the courtroom.

On the Record

Whether the judge speaks on or off the record, take notes. Electronic recordings are generally prohibited, so don't cue up the iPhone.

If it's not your case, you may be tempted to ignore the lecture, but don't. Regular court watchers learn more about judges than counsel who occasionally drop in.

In a Minneapolis courtroom, for example, a federal judge took the opportunity to talk about hate as he dismissed a case. The plaintiffs had sued to challenge a state law that outlawed discrimination.

The plaintiffs ran a videography business and claimed a right to refuse wedding video services to same-sex couples. Judge John Tunheim said their conduct was "akin to a 'White Applicants Only' sign."

The judge's speech was also a sign to others: do not try it in his courtroom.

Off the Record

Sometimes, a judge will take off the robe and really get in your face. We're not talking Judge Judy or her kind. Those jurists, like the panel on "Hot Bench," do it for ratings.

Others do it to change lives. Judge Verda Colvin, for example, started a lecture to a group of juvenile offenders by showing them a body bag.

"I am sick and tired of seeing people who look like you coming into my courtroom, and I have to sentence them to prison," she said. "Don't you come up in here!"

Colvin said she knew the kinds of problems they faced and what happens to families because her own child got into trouble, too. One time, she just went back to work, shut the door and cried.

She let the kids go, but only after a few were in tears. That lecture said a lot about the judge.

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