- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 30, 2005

CHARLOTTESVILLE (AP) — Forget about flip-flops in the White House.

General District Judge Roger Morton has seen his share of fashion offenses by defendants, including shorts, T-shirts and a sweat shirt with the words “Sex Kitten” on the back.

Judge Morton wonders how the courtroom would react if he took to casual clothing.

“If I were up there wearing a Jimmy Buffett shirt,” he said, “you’d think I was a little off beam.”

The problem only gets worse in the summer when flip-flops turn into formal footwear and bellies and body jewelry are bared.

Judge Morton, who oversees the Culpeper and Madison general district courts, and his colleagues on the bench are taking action against sloppy defendants and jurors by setting dress codes. They aren’t alone.

In York County, the dress code reads: “Anyone not properly dressed upon arriving in the courtroom may be sent away until properly dressed or may be found in contempt of court and subject to a fine or incarceration or both.”

Edna DeChristopher, clerk for York’s juvenile and domestic relations court, said most inappropriately dressed defendants just get sent home and have their hearings rescheduled.

The most common offense is wearing shorts, Miss DeChristopher said.

Judge Morton started off allowing shorts three or four years back, but a couple of years ago, a circuit judge he works with got irritated with jurors wearing them.

After some high-level negotiations among the central Virginia judges, shorts now are frowned upon in many courtrooms.

Greene County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ron Morris, who has worked as a defense attorney, offers witnesses and clients a piece of advice: “Dress the way you would if you’re going to church.”

That may not necessarily mean a dark, three-piece suit for men, but it usually means more than a tank top and cutoffs.

“I think our judges do a very good job of being impartial and not judging people on clothes,” Mr. Morris said.

Many defense attorneys go to great lengths to make their clients appear presentable in front of juries, bringing them suits or blouses for court.

“They don’t just come in a jail uniform,” Mr. Morris said. “They put on street clothes.”

Still, even with a strict dress code, judges give the poor and the recently incarcerated some leeway.

If jeans or sweat pants are all they have to wear, that’s fine, Judge Morton said.

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