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» Courts, Government Rants » They Don't Mean It

They Don't Mean It

I’ve been noticing a lot of signs in court buildings saying something to the effect of “if you are exhibiting flu-like symptoms, please be courteous and stay home.” I guess the whole swine flu scare is just now reaching the courts. The signs aren’t a bad idea, but I find them misleading.

I doubt many judges would be willing to excuse a defendant from court because of flu-like symptoms. Last week I saw a tribal court judge issue a bench warrant for a terminally ill defendant who missed court because she was too sick to leave the hospital. Does a defendant with flu-like symptoms, someone not even verifiably suffering from a full-fledged case of the flu, really have a chance of having his or her absence excused?

If people took the signs literally, there would be a lot more bench warrants. There would be a lot more orders to show cause and judge-imposed sanctions against defense lawyers. Judges don’t seem terribly sympathetic when defense attorneys say they missed hearings because they woke up sick and couldn’t get coverage. Calling the court usually doesn’t help.

The signs should have a disclaimer. They’d be a lot less misleading if they said “prosecutors and court employees only: if you are exhibiting flu-like symptoms, please be courteous and stay home.”

The courts shouldn’t be telling people they are justified in missing hearings unless they’re willing to not get mad when they do. Judges may not like coughing, sneezing defendants, but an irritated judge is better than a bench warrant.

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