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All pants rise for judge of dignity

You'd think a courthouse would be dripping with dignity, all those somber black-robed judges, those life-changing decisions, that high-minded legalese.

Truth is, on busy days local courthouses are like city bus stations, people of all stripe milling about, a child (and occasional adult) wailing in the hall, lawyers bustling around importantly, everyone headed somewhere (or nowhere) fast.

And so it was in the Hillsborough County courthouse last week that Circuit Judge Dan Perry finally had enough.

Enough of a world where flip-flops are considered appropriate for funerals.

Enough of pajamas at the grocery and beachwear on planes.

Enough of seeing more of a person's person than you ever wanted.

Enough.

Oh, wait, that's me. Probably the judge doesn't give a lick about what other people wear in public. A courtroom is another matter.

Enough, the judge said, of inmates baring their butts (or, technically, their jail-issued bunchy boxers) over their deliberately oversized orange jail pants. Which, by the way, has to be the dumbest fashion statement ever.

No doubt you've seen it: a kid in britches so big and worn so low that his underwear-covered rear sticks out above the waistband, giving you full view of his tighty-whities or other underthings of choice. It is said to have begun as a show of solidarity with jail inmates in their beltless baggy pants — just the guys you'd want to emulate — but apparently inmates themselves started exaggerating the style and wearing 5X pants on their 32-inch waists.

Not just inmates. You'd be amazed at what people wear to court, T-shirts from profane to pornographic. Someone with a drug charge shows up in, I am not making this up, a shirt printed with a big marijuana leaf. A guy with a DUI sports a Budweiser belt buckle. Before the Great Underwear Uprising (so to speak), a woman came to Judge Perry's court in a shirt proclaiming something SUCKS. No one could remember later what it was that SUCKS, just that apparently it really SUCKS.

Judge Perry, a man of dry humor, runs probation court, also called Excuse Court. People accused of violating probation often come before him because they have tested positive for drugs. The conversation can begin something like, "See, what happened was …" and end in "And that's the truth, judge." It would not be an exaggeration to say he has heard about everything, from improbable to heartbreaking to outright lies.

He has been known to hammer people and to give a break. A man on probation for running a red light and killing a Secret Service agent had one chance, then another. The third time, Perry put him in prison. Enough.

The bared underwear situation had been going on a while, with inmates black and white. One day an inmate stood up and his pants did not. Last week, the judge had it. He postponed court and sent the inmates back to jail for proper attire. When a fellow came in all undies-out the next day, the judge did it again. The jail has vowed to fix the situation.

In this, the judge won a small victory for dignity and decorum in the courtroom. He should not have to say butts must be covered, but those of us who have seen enough are glad he did.

All pants rise for judge of dignity 09/13/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 16, 2008 5:58pm]

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