Monday, December 14, 2009

The Courthouse is Making Me Sick!

New Orleans is reporting that a Courthouse in St. Bernard parish is infested with a type of mold that throws off toxins.  The Parish courthouse was flooded during Hurricane Katrina sitting in 3 feet of water for several day as a consequence the building has developed this wicked case of toxic mold.

In my sordid career I've been in many old and odd "courthouses," some that have made me feel a little queasy, some that were just bizarre, and as I've talked about, before--at least one where I had the shit kicked out of me.  I've talked about the latter incident enough, let me talk about the design and ambience of courtrooms.

I know what you're thinking, c'mon Bad Lawyer...ambience isn't that restaurant jargon.  Sure.  I don't rate courtrooms based on the ferns, and savory smells, but if you don't think there is conscious thought given to courtroom decor, then you aren't watching courtroom dramas or more incredibly, you haven't been to court.  First the courtroom is a set piece for the theater of Justice.  The Judge is costumed, be-robed, and the lawyers as I've talked about in Style Diktats, should be appropriately attired.  The prisoners, at least in Our State wear a garishly colored jumpsuit, and come in the courtroom in cuffs if not leg shakles.   The roles played by the participants determine where they sit, where they stand, and at what altitude.  Generally speaking the Judge is "elevated" on a bench--or as the cliche` has it, so-and-so-lawyer was "elevated to the bench."  The jury sits in the "box." the witness takes the"stand," the lawyers and parties sit at "table."  In most courtrooms the Judge is framed by the American flag and the state flag.  Sometimes, the seal of the jurisdiction where the court is located is behind the judge or on the front of the Bench.  Usually there is a podium for some sort.  Commonly there is a rail in front of the jury box; and sometimes in front of the Bench; often the area behind the lawyer tables is separated from general seating.

Now, get this straight contrary to the impression given by television, there are usually few if any interested spectators.  Persons present in courtrooms are typically there on their own business.  Witnesses who are not parties sit outside the courtroom so as not to have theri testimony "tainted" by what they hear in the courtroom before they are called to the stand, this is called "separation of witnesses."

In my opinion older courthouses have better rooms to try lawsuits.  This is becasue there is natural light from windows.  Some sick, psycho bastard came along in the late 1960s-70s and decided that courtrooms without windows was preferable from the standpoint of security and HVAC issues.  This moron and his architectural buddies (who should be prevented from procreating) made courtrooms uninhabitable.  From thence forth lawyers and courtroom denizens were condemned to servitude in hermetically sealed HVAC circulating formaldehyde chambers (illustration at left).  One courthouse in particular that I visit regularly has 40+ rooms all artificially lit with feces-brown carpeted walls marked out by heavy vertical paneling.  If you stand in front of the jury and gently sway back and forth you can watch the jurors turn green, provoking nausea from the optical effect of sea sickness.  When the idiots who designed this ambient disaster figured it out, it cost that county millions to alter the effect.  Oh, and the origianl lawyer chairs can't be comfortably used by anyone who is hmmmm, say less than 6'10"--being a little shy of that my feet dangle and if I lean back the chair will bolt you backwards like your laying in a hammock.  Nice.

I much prefer the old courthouses. Heating and air conditioning can be a challege during certain times of the year, I admit.  I was trying a case in a county near here in their old courthouse.  It was winter, and the old steam heat system was beating and howling percussively throughout the trial.  My chair at the lawyer's table was closest to the radiators and I was sweating like I was in a Swedish sauna.  It was a challenge, but I'd take this any day, over any minute spent in one of the star chambers of the new "Justice Centers." 

There are beautiful old courthouses, both State and Federal which thanks to the landmark movements have been preserved and are still be used.  One of the old courthouses I visit regularly has genuine Tiffany windows, astonishing light fixtures and railings.  Lawyers who have never been to a courthouse in their lives use this courthouse as a backdrop for professional photos and television commericials.  Silly.

As a rule what happens in courthouses makes me sick, the courtroom itself should not in and of itself be an instrument of illness--too often, either through design, neglect and in the case of the St. Bernard Parish courthouse environmental causes, the courtroom itself will make you sick.  Good luck with that!


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