The Ottumwa Courier

June 28, 2011

Why stand?

Annette Scieszinski
Judge, District 8-A

OTTUMWA — Recently during a jury trial, the crowd in the courtroom whispered nervously when the judge entered the courtroom: to stand, or not to stand? It was obvious, people didn’t know the protocol. They’d seen folks in the movies rise when the judge ascended the bench. And, of course, the regulars—the lawyers and frequent court customers—seem to know when to get up. But there was no leader in the front row this day to signal the ritual. The busy court attendant was multi-tasking at the computer in the corner, inputting jury data while also serving as the bailiff.

By tradition in America, people stand for the judge to show respect for the institution of the court. In the 15 years I worked as a lawyer, I stood countless times for the judge, knowing the custom and demonstrating a reverence for the court. I still see the convening of a trial as a major event. It is a profound exercise of the people’s Constitutional rights—despite a relaxed civic attention to it some days.

Judges juggle a mix of reactions when people stand for them. As public servants judges find it personally comfortable and publicly appealing, to demonstrate humility in office. Few judges would take personal offense that no one stood. Yet, judges bear a mantle of responsibility to the Judicial Branch of government: to preserve the integrity of the court process, to enforce courtroom decorum, and to engender public respect. Black robes and judicial titles are not what make court orders work. The invaluable trust, confidence, and respect that people have for the courts are what really empower the rulings.

Standing for the judge is the open gesture of the public’s respect for the fair process of the Judicial Branch, its recognition that the judge represents the court, and its commitment to the justice of the results.

Judge Scieszinski serves as a general-jurisdiction trial judge on the District 8-A Bench. She travels as part of a team of six judges, who preside in a wide variety of cases—from felonies, to divorces, from civil lawsuits, to probate. She may be reached at annette.scieszinski@iowacourts.gov.