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Monday, December 10, 2012

"Ask the Judge" Column in La Prensa of San Antonio, 12-9

Ask the Judge: Visiting the Court
By Judge Steve Walker

During my 4-year- tenure as a Justice of the Peace, many people to include college students, friends and interested observers have visited my courtroom as simply a visitor, not a plaintiff or defendant, witness or an attorney.

Many people are under the false assumption you are only allowed in court if you have specific business in that court. Actually that is not entirely true.

All courts in America are open to the public during business hours for trials and other legal transactions. The only rule that is standard is if you do visit the courtroom you maintain decorum and protocol and unless directly involved, keep quiet during courtroom business. You are not allowed to ask questions while a trial is going if you are not involved since that would be construed as a disruption and interference of the legal process.

In my courtroom as in many courtrooms, school field trips involving elementary school students, middle and high school students and even home schoolers as well as college classes usually call ahead and let us know that the class is coming to observe. Even if they don’t call ahead they are welcome if there is room. Unexpectedly dropping in is permitted for observers.

The media is allowed total access in my courtroom which may or may not be allowed in other courtrooms. Each court is different. They must maintain order while covering a trial or litigation and not hinder the proceedings in any way. As previously stated, on occasion senior citizens and others curious observers stop by and view what might transpire in my courtroom. Visitors are welcome to view how the legal system works.

This past year a home school program consortium made up of various home school students around the city participated in a mock trial where the students acted as the prosecutors and defense lawyers with witnesses and experts.

As they conducted the proceedings, fellow students and parents observed and actually taped the courtroom drama for over two hours until the trial played out with a verdict and critique of the entire proceedings by me and a panel of jurors.

Many visitors have come to my court to observe for various reasons, one of which is simply curiosity. That reason alone, when you think about it, makes perfectly good sense. It is not a problem.

So if you wish to visit a courtroom and watch the proceedings, do so. It might be more educational and entertaining that you think.

Never knowing what is going to happen next is part of the adventure.

One minute you may overhear heart wrenching stories, moment’s later bizarre tales, and later comments that make you say make you scratch your head and utter “huh?”

Lastly as always, if you are due in court, be sure to show up to court on time. It is in everyone’s best interest.

Justice of the Peace, Pct. 2 Steve Walker is a Vietnam Veteran and a former Journalist.

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