Monday, October 25, 2010

Courtroom Spectator Speech: Red Clipboards and Judicial Ethics

A Minnesota judge's reaction to a court monitoring project, WATCH, has been attracting attention from the likes of the ABA Journal and WSJ Law Blog, as well as the local City Pages.  

Picture 2 The underlying incident involves members of WATCH appearing in court with "red clipboards," which the judge addressed in a rather lengthy statement read from the bench, including allegations that the red clipboards were were a “not very subtle threat to the judge," were  “arguably ex parte communications to judges about pending cases," were "strongly partisan communications of a threatening nature to judges," and the "dynamic of the phenomenon is essentially the same" as "gang members allegedly using gang signs and insignia to influence or intimidate witnesses."    This is according to the Board of Judicial Standards of Minnesota's Complaint.  The judge's Response specifically raises the question of spectator speech: "The effect of spectator conduct and the concomitant effort to influence the proceeding" remains an "open question." 

Thus, while the present controversy is in the context of a judicial ethics proceeding, it raises the important issue of speech acts by members of the public in the courtroom.


[image from WATCH website via]

Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Speech | Permalink

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