The Common Law

Courtroom conduct and etiquette – can my clothes get me in trouble?

We have been summoned to appear in court next month because our two daughters have missed lots of school. The letter included a dress code for court and rules list. The letter states that if we fail to comply it can result in additional penalties. Is there a law that says we have to dress up for court?

As a general rule, courtroom etiquette and rules of conduct, including things like dress code, are promulgated by each individual county in what are referred to as local rules. The question above does not say what county the person asking the question resides in. The question does, however, mention a letter from the court, which suggests that the county where that person resides enforces a specific dress code. Someone headed to court should always abide by that court's dress code. In theory, someone who violates a court dress code could be subject to penalties, including contempt of court as the most extreme measure. Although, punishment for failure to dress properly to court is both unlikely and uncommon.

In Travis County, the local rules contain a section titled General Rules of Courtroom Conduct ("Rules of Conduct"), which can be found at www.co.travis.tx.us/district_courts/pdffiles/local_rules.pdf. As last week's column discussed, the Rules of Conduct mostly set out a list of activities (chewing gum, tobacco, etc.) that are prohibited in the courtroom.

While Travis County's rules of conduct do require that officers of the court (i.e., attorneys) dress appropriately for court sessions, there is no express requirement for dress for witnesses or people summoned to court. Nevertheless, as a practical matter, it is always in a person's best interests to dress in a manner that shows the judge and jury the same amount of respect that they wish to be shown. If you don't take the matter seriously enough to dress respectably for court, chances are that neither will others. Dressing properly shows that you understand that appearing in court is important. In the end, use your best judgment and you'll be fine.

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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