Carlton: Want to annoy a judge? There's a book for that

Judge William Burgess III also wrote a list of lawyer faux pas.
Judge William Burgess III also wrote a list of lawyer faux pas.
Published March 10 2016
Updated March 11 2016

Listen up: If you are going to be in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge William Burgess III's courtroom, do not for even one moment think of wearing your bedroom slippers, much less your Snuggie. I'm telling you, just don't do it.

"Improper attire," the judge warns in the first draft of his A Pocket Manual of Courtroom Etiquette, "annoys judges."

Burgess' not-yet-published missive doesn't specifically mention pj's, but his Facebook page does show a picture of a guy at his desk wearing a Snuggie (or is that a Slanket?), and another photo of an actual courtroom sign warning people that pajamas are not appropriate courtroom attire. Consider yourself warned.

No place is more interesting than a courthouse for the infinite variety of personalities within. Take Judge Burgess.

A longtime prosecutor and Army man elected to the bench in 2012, he raised eyebrows among some lawyers last fall who circulated his list of 22 "Things That Lawyers Do That Annoy Judges." I said raised eyebrows, not out-loud objections. Most lawyers find criticizing a judge is rarely in their best interest.

Some items are pretty basic, like "not being punctual" or "misstating law or facts," both having definite annoyance potential.

Then check out No. 7, the one about lawyers "failing to practice facial and bodily serenity by exhibiting rolling eyes, dancing eyebrows, grimacing, pouting, pulling faces, or shaking one's head side-to-side when disagreeing with the court; clicking ballpoint pens, jiggling change in one's pocket, swaying back and forth, and walking around the courtroom when addressing the court; and bobbing or nodding one's head in agreement when the court makes a point that meets with approval."

And, wow. Kinda makes you want to hang in his courtroom just to see these lawyers go.

Burgess' list also takes issue with when attorneys do "a quick up-and-down" when a judge enters instead of a proper all rise, or when they ask, "has Your Honor read the material?" Talk about not knowing your audience.

Other notable annoyances: "referring to the sitting judge as 'Judge' or 'Sir' rather than 'Your Honor.' " Now, see, I would have thought "sir" was downright respectful, except, of course, when the judge also is a woman.

Also: "Touching or leaning on the judge's bench during bench conferences." Who knew you needed invisible fencing to keep lazy lawyers off the furniture?

A sneak peek of the courtroom etiquette manual, linked to on his honor's Facebook page and thick with history, decorum and procedure, indicates in the section on "attire" he would likely not be amused by the current trial featuring wrestler Hulk Hogan in head bandana.

Publishing-wise, this is not Burgess' first rodeo: He wrote a book on Florida sentencing guidelines. On Facebook, he posts things like, "spending this rainy day pondering the 'reasonable probability' standard applied to downward departure #sentencing." Well, sure, who doesn't?

But if you want to know his thoughts on lawyers with "unusual" hairstyles or "morbid or comedic" neckties — and I've seen some ugly ties, though never quite "morbid" — well, you'll have to wait for the book. He politely declined to speak to me on the grounds that it's not yet published.

Too bad, because I would like to have said, you, sir, are a man who likes some serious order in the court. Um, Your Honor, I mean.

Sue Carlton can be reached at [email protected]

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