Decorum in proceedings - UTCR Chapter 3

March 2007
By Judge John Wittmayer, Multnomah County Circuit Court

In my column for March, 2005, I suggested it would be a good idea to read the court rules annually. This month I direct your attention specifically to Chapter 3 of the Uniform Trial Court Rules, Decorum in Proceedings. As the years pass, our society has grown increasingly less formal. In general, I think that is a good thing. But, in court, I believe a certain level of formality contributes to the orderly disposition of disputes and helps support an acceptance by the public and litigants of decisions that result from court proceedings.

UTCR 3.010 requires all persons "attending the court to be dressed so as to not detract from the dignity of court." Often I see litigants appear in court wearing a T-shirt or other attire that most of us would agree is inappropriate. When those litigants have lawyers, and are not pro se, I sometimes wonder if their lawyer discussed with them the requirements of UTCR 3.010(1). UTCR 3.040 requires lawyers to advise their clients and witnesses of the formalities of the court. I am aware that people with less means and resources often do their best with what they have available, but lawyers should at least discuss this with their clients and witnesses in advance of court.

UTCR 3.010(2) requires attorneys and court officials to "wear appropriate attire." With society's more relaxed attitude about formalities in recent decades, we see more and more lawyers who interpret this rule in a very loose manner. Most members of the bar understand "appropriate attire" for male lawyers to include at least a coat and tie. But what of the women lawyers? Are white tennis shoes or a bare midriff "appropriate attire" for them? I have seen both in court. In my 11 years as a judge and my 23 years as a lawyer before that, I have never seen a judge suggest that a lawyer was not properly attired in court, except when a man was not wearing a tie or a jacket. Perhaps judges should take more responsibility for maintaining at least these minimal standards in court.