Casual Friday was always a blight on the professional workplace landscape,and, predictably, it has come to this.
There is a cultural battle going on in San Antonio, Texas, where in the 187th District Court, District Judge Steven Hilbig announced that he would not allow prosecutors in his courtroom if they were dressed like a local version of Joe Pesci’s Vinnie in “My Cousin Vinnie,” garbed in jeans and guayaberas rather than Vinnie’s leather jacket and leather pants. This wouldn’t be a problem for any sane DA’s office, since almost everywhere else no self-respecting (judge-respecting, court-respecting, law-respecting, respect-respecting…) lawyer would dream of appearing in the halls of justice dressed like an Acapulco tourist, or Cousin Vinnie, for that matter. It is a problem in Bexar County, however, because there District Attorney Nico LaHood thinks that local tradition trumps the legitimate needs of the justice system.
It is Fiesta time, you see, in Bexar county, a ten-day celebration that migrated legally from Mexico to parts of Texas, and previous judges foolishly allowed it to be recognized in their courthouses by permitting prosecutors to “dress down.” The rough, and equally stupid, equivalent farther from the border would be allowing prosecutors to dress like elves during the Christmas shopping season or Minnie Mouse on Halloween.
Judge Hilbig, an adult, finally decided to put a stop to this nonsense by declaring, as did Judge Fred Gwynne, old Herman Munster himself in “My Cousin Vinnie,” that no lawyer was going to make a mockery of justice in his courtroom by setting foot in it dressed unprofessionally.
I love this guy!
Incredibly, LaHood is fighting the order. He told his prosecutors not to comply and even added a week to his office’s ” Prosecution Should Be Fun” days. Judge Hilbig stuck to his word: dockets were called without prosecutors responding. LaHood remained defiant, noting that previous Bexar DAs permitted lawyers to look like slobs during Fiesta while undertaking business that defendants and their family regarded as life-altering. (Newspaper accounts have not revealed what female prosecutors dressed like during Fiesta. I shudder to think.) LaHood’s rationalization is “Everybody does it,” a defense that prosecutors find unpersuasive from the people they prosecute.
“I will not tolerate treating our prosecutors who work very hard wrong or condescending,” LaHood added, according to media reports.
Great, he can’t talk, either.
Judges appear in robes, not bikinis. Defendants who are well-advised by their lawyers show respect, contrition and deference by appearing in dress no less formal than they would use for a job interview. Witnesses testify under oath, and their testimony isn’t delivered in song, limericks or stand-up routines. Cour rooms are not the proper places to have fun, be light-hearted, party, or wear a tutu. LaHood’s unprofessional and unethical stand illustrates where this particular slippery slope has always pointed. He has made the casual dress of his staff a higher priority than their duties.
There is even a rule about this. Texas Rule of Professional Conduct 3.o4 states that it is unethical conduct for a lawyer in trial to
(5) engage in conduct intended to disrupt the proceedings.
The judge, not the DA, the bailiff or the stenographer, gets to define what a disruption is in his or her courtroom, whether it is this….
Well, on second thought, maybe I don’t love Judge Hilbig, since I can find no reports of him holding the DA and every one of his disrespectful assistant prosecutors in contempt, jailing them, and releasing all of the defendants they failed to prosecute by defying him. The judge should also be report LaHood to the bar for discipline, as wellas every one of LaHood’s subordinates.
I’m certain that’s what Fred would have done.
Pointer: Fred (not Gwynne, he’s dead, sadly)