A pair of Florida attorneys are seeking a new trial for their convicted clients because the courtroom security guards mistakenly thought they were the Fashion Police, or working the red velvet rope line at the hottest club in South Beach.
Attorneys John Bergendahl and Bruce Zimet, whose clients were convicted of defrauding the US and financial institutions in a federal mortgage scheme that ran more than five years, filed the retrial motion partly because a number of prospective jurors were allegedly turned back from the federal courthouse in Orlando, Florida by the guards, who are U.S. marshals, for failing to meet the standards of that court’s juror dress code. Which, states in part that “proper attire includes coat and tie for men” and “similarly appropriate attire for women,” which is oddly vague, but also mandates “no jeans, polo shirts or sneakers.”
The attorneys argued that the dress code is discriminatory because it might have weeded out prospective jurors who couldn’t adhere to it for economic or religious reasons, although I’m not familiar with any religion that prohibits the wearing of shoes or requires donning polo shirts. Also, if you’ve gone shopping for running shoes, especially designer ones, you know that “economic reasons” are not why someone buys them, unless it’s as an investment.
However, the lawyers may have strong “footing” on one ground, which is that the power to dismiss jurors based on violations of the dress code rests with the judge, and not the security guards. As the old courthouse adage goes, “You can’t judge a book by its cover. Especially if you’re not the judge.’”
But it does raise the question of what is “juror appropriate” clothing?
“What to wear” appears on virtually every courtroom website’s list of juror FAQs. To which the one –size-fits –all response should probably be, “If you have to ask, DRESS BETTER.”
Instead, somewhat surprisingly (at least to me), the standards vary wildly, even in federal courts, where there is no federal standard. In nearby Tampa, the dress code omits mention of a coat and tie, and merely stipulates, “No ripped/stained jeans, shorts, flip flops, tank tops or beach attire are allowed.”
While in Margaritaville, if they ever put the SOB who stole Jimmy Buffett’s “lost shaker of salt” on trial, flip-flops will practically be de rigueur for jurors, and anyone wearing a suit and tie will be hoisted on his own petard.
State court dress codes are even more diverse, being literally all over the map.
Contrary to Orlando, Florida, the New Mexico state court juror dress code singles out that “jackets and ties are not required for men,” but that “jeans are acceptable.”
And North Dakota’s court website says “Some courts suggest dressing as you would in church…” and is the only one I found that specifically states “no tuxedos.” I can’t claim to be overly familiar with the Peace Garden State (that’s what they call themselves. Seriously), but my sense is that potential jurors showing up in tuxedos is not a big concern.
Some courts have their, let’s say, panties in a bunch about appropriate courtroom threads, perhaps none more so than the courts in Nashville, Tennessee, which stipulate, among other things, that: Skirts must reach and extend below the fingertip (?); all pants must be worn waist high; undershirts and tank tops must be worn with another “cover-up”; shoulders, backs, chests, and midriffs must be covered; see-through or suggestive clothing is verboten; except for sweaters, sweatshirts, or vests, shirts must be tucked into pants, skirts, or shorts, including athletic jerseys; tattoos that display drugs, sex, alcohol, or tobacco products mustn’t be displayed; and chains, spiked accessories, and oversized jewelry are not permissible.
If all this seems somewhat incongruous (athletic jerseys are permitted?) a footnote at the bottom explains “The above guidelines are drawn from the Metropolitan Nashville Public School Dress Code (Policy 1737).”
To which I will just add a resounding “Huh?”
Speaking of bizarre, New Hampshire’s juror FAQs contain two oddball questions that, while not being fashion related, directly reflect upon its being the self-proclaimed “Live Free or Die” state. 1) What if the summoned juror is dead? (He/she is excused from serving. Thank goodness!) and 2) What if I don’t want to be paid to serve? (You can decline payment, although attorneys on both sides might begin to wonder about your mental competence to serve).
In contrast to the onerous Nashville guidelines, Kentucky’s simply states, “Jurors should wear comfortable clothing that is appropriate to the seriousness and dignity of the courtroom.”
Connecticut’s code is, if possible, even more general. “Use discretion in selecting your attire. Decorum is maintained in the courthouse; please dress accordingly.”
Some guidelines offer a glimpse into regional fashion tastes: In St. Clair County, Michigan, along with the more common ban on shorts, cutoffs, sleeveless t-shirts and halter tops, jurors there are specifically instructed to dispense with “spandex pants and tights.”
So there you have it. The next time you’re summoned for jury duty; dress accordingly. Whatever that is.