Number 1 of 20 for 20 – Standing On Ceremony

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“Oyez oyez oyez! All persons having business in this honorable court are admonished to draw near and give their attention. The Honorable Henry Coke Morgan Jr. Presiding. God bless the United States of America and this honorable court.”

Thus began every day of a trial I supported a few years ago in the Eastern District of Virginia, Norfolk Division. Now as I reflect on those perfunctory words delivered by the earnest courtroom clerk (who we all came to know simply as “Tim,”) it occurs to me that it is a good place to start when describing why I love this work. I do stand on ceremony as it turns out.
And I love it.

There are three distinctive reasons that come to mind. Formality. Completion. Team.

First, I love the formality. Walking into most federal courthouses is not without austerity. It often is the first thing that hits you, after security that is. It helps to immediately respect, with genuine appreciation, the court officers. 99% of their job is monotonous, ushering people through metal detectors who have one of a myriad of reasons to be there. They could be fighting over money, they could be arriving for jury duty, they might be in the middle of custodial disputes, or to be sentenced. They could be hoping for their own version of justice, their proverbial “day in court,” or to witness someone they love get their day in court. They could be on their way to be sworn in as U.S. citizens. Whatever the reason, court officers have to be ready for that lone wildcard, the person emotionally walking the line between danger to self and danger to others. He or she often feels wronged, and wants to hurt people. Court officers could die trying to protect our right to resolve disputes. Recognizing that alone is the first step to acknowledging the consequential nature of their work and the way it contributes to the whole system.

The rest of the environment fosters even more awesome dedication to our system of justice. Many of the buildings that house Federal courtrooms have a certain smell of old wood and long-tailed sound. The echoes of heels on marble floors and high ceilings instill and demand reverence simply by harkening back to trials of the past, to people in history who had vision and insight for the future. We are all well advised to understand this place, this forum was built by and exists for us. We all have a place here, even as mere spectators.

We contribute to purpose and existence. And hopefully we do it because it elevates our society to civil. I will continue with the second and third reasons in my next post. Stay tuned.

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