Tribune-Courier News Editor
BENTON — District Judge Jack Telle told one emotional couple there would be no gratuitous displays of affection when he cited them for contempt of court during a preliminary hearing Wednesday.
The pair cited for contempt were Michael Raney and Jessica Hart.
“There’s been tremendous social upheaval in the past five to 10 years, and I’m not sure where it will end,” Telle said.
Telle was in the process of binding a defendant’s case to the grand jury for further consideration when he called out the couple for kissing in his courtroom
“If you want to do some smooching, find some place else other than my courtroom,” Telle admonished at the time. Both were asked to sit at the jail line and sent by bailiffs to the Marshall County Detention Center to serve 48 hours in jail by Telle.
“I looked up and saw people kissing during a very serious matter,” Telle said. “Kissing in the courtroom is never appropriate unless I’m performing a wedding and we’re honoring the tradition.”
Telle said most of his contempt orders come from small claims court.
“I don’t want to be completely rigid, but when people hit a certain point, I have to do what needs to be done to uphold the integrity of the court. It depends on the individual circumstances,” Telle said.
Telle said he does not enforce a dress code, but has asked people in his courtroom to reverse or remove a T-shirt if it is graphic, gory or otherwise inappropriate.
“I know some people wearing their work clothes, and take that into consideration. I also know some people have a case of poverty and are dressed the best they can,” Telle said. “If I feel people are being intentionally disrespectful, I will call them on it. It’s rare that I feel like people are being intentionally disrespectful.”
Telle said he has served on the bench for 10 years and has only found people in contempt an average of two times per year.
Circuit Judge Dennis Foust said he issues a contempt citation once every two to three years.
“I was on the Bench in Calloway County and a couple was close to having relations. I didn’t issue a contempt citation, but I had to stop court to suggest they get a room, and that we were not permitting that in court,” Foust said.
Foust said his bailiffs have discretion to police inappropriate behavior in his courtroom.
“Most people dress the best they can, but some people frankly don’t know any better,” Foust said.
While some defendants wear alcoholic beverage logos on their clothing to DUI hearings and other court functions, Foust said it plays to his or a jury’s determination of a case.
“You don’t need to wear a Brooks Brothers suit. Most people are comfortable in blue jeans. I suggest you come in clean and half way neat, but I leave it to bailiffs to determine if something is inappropriate,” Foust said. “The main thing is to see justice done in the courtroom. In felony cases, the punishment can be severe, but if there is something I need to do, I will make corrections immediately.”
Foust said he has issued contempt citations for frequent cellular phone disruptions. He now has posted orders to silence ring tones, but bailiffs will enforce telephones as necessary.
“I had a juror undergoing qualifications, who’s phone went off and he was mortified. He wasn’t being intentionally disrespectful and silenced it right away,” Foust said.