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Judges Upset Over Declining Manner Of Dress In Court

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Ola Lewis
RALEIGH, N.C. — From cutoffs to cleavage, judges across the state wage war everyday on what they see as a declining dress in their courtrooms.

"I think we all know when we go certain places, we dress a certain way. One thing I always tell people is when you dress for court, you dress like you go to church," Wake County District Court Judge Craig Croom said.

"A lot of it is just not using that old-fashioned, God-given common sense," Superior Court Judge Ola Lewis said.

Lewis said people who are inappropriately dressed are a distraction and she is not afraid to throw them out.

"It disrupts the process and judges are gatekeepers, if you will, of the courtroom," Lewis said.

It is not just a distraction, Croom said. It is about respect. He asks people who enter his courtroom to take off their hats, pull up sagging pants and tuck in shirt-tails.

"It's not just me you're respecting. It's the court system itself," he said.

Judges are also concerned about what a person's clothing says literally.

"In a DWI case, a young man came in wearing a T-shirt, 'Friends don't let friends drink alone.' Another shirt I've seen, 'One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor,' in a DWI case," Lewis said.

Judges have resorted to putting signs on their doors -- things that should be obvious: no underwear showing, no tank tops, no halter tops, no hats.

"If they don't read the sign, I send them right back to the door and I say, 'Sir, you need to read my sign and come on back in,'" Croom said.

However, not everyone agrees with the dress code.

"Your demeanor and how you present yourself is more important than how you look," defendant Lee Wrenn said.

Wrenn said he does not think what you wear in court should matter.

"I don't think you should have to wear a suit and tie to court. What difference does that make? I didn't have a suit and tie on when I got arrested," he said.

Raleigh defense attorney Rick Gammon said appearance goes a long way toward mercy in courtrooms.

"I try to beg my clients to dress appropriately for the courtroom," he said. "If someone is standing before the court, they are clean-shaven, their hair is cut, they have clothes on that show they respect the court; the court appreciates that, and I think the court will award them for that."

Ultimately, each judge has the right to set the dress code in his or her courtroom. You can be thrown out of the courtroom for improper dress. If you refuse to comply, you can be charged with contempt or disorderly conduct.