- Associated Press - Sunday, January 15, 2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - During a technological refit of his courtroom a dozen or so years ago, U.S. District Judge Algenon L. Marbley was told there were a number of options available to judges to mask sidebar conversations with attorneys so jurors couldn’t overhear.

Sidebars are held out of jurors’ earshot because they involve matters of law, which aren’t a concern for them. “The jury’s function is to decide disputed facts,” Marbley said.

One option was “white noise,” said John Wright, then the courtroom technology administrator. “He said, ‘I can’t stand that,’” Wright said.

White noise reminded the 62-year-old judge of the days when a hissing noise came on TV sets when programming ended for the night.

Marbley went with another option- a more melodic solution.

When attorneys request a sidebar conversation with Marbley, the sounds of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis float through the courtroom in the federal courthouse on Marconi Boulevard.

Others on his sidebar playlist include guitarist Wes Montgomery, singer and pianist Diana Krall and trumpeter Roy Hargrove.

In U.S. District Judge Michael H. Watson’s courtroom, the Urban Jazz Coalition plays. That’s a band that features percussionist and courthouse administrative services supervisor Hector Maldonado.

“I was a big jazz fan at one time,” Watson said.

The lone holdout is Chief District Judge Edmund A. Sargus Jr., who said white noise is fine with him.

But recently, Sargus’ chambers were being remodeled and he borrowed retired District Judge Robert L. Frost’s courtroom.

Jurors hearing that case had acclimated to the white noise in Sargus’ courtroom and were surprised to hear music when a sidebar was called in Frost’s.

The judge apologized for not warning them, blaming “this guy to my right,” pointing to a portrait of Frost hanging on the wall.

However, after the case was heard, Sargus said, “I might be a convert” to sidebar music.

Marbley said mellow jazz sounds come in handy when it’s time to cool down battling attorneys.

“It’s almost like elevator music,” he said. “It has a soothing influence on the courtroom, where disputes often are settled at sidebar.”

Miles Davis is Marbley’s favorite artist, and his favorite album is the 1959 classic “Kind of Blue.”

“I have it on every conceivable format, on the system in court, on CD, my phone,” Marbley said.

Because sidebar music used to be kept on CDs, every time a clerk pushed the button, the music would start from the first song on the disc over and over again, Wright said.

“It made jurors laugh because every time it was so predictable,” he said.

Converting to music on a digital file loop solved that problem.

Sidebar music is an option at all U.S. courthouses.

“Invariably, someone will make a request for other types, from Motown to country (and) western,” said Marbley, who doesn’t take requests. “I tell them that’s left to the sound discretion of the court.”


Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, https://www.dispatch.com

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