Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My iPad almost got me arrested

I was sitting in the back of the courtroom waiting for the judge to get to my case. Just a normal morning, with a normal court call and my normal attempts to multitask while sitting around waiting.

It was at this time that I made my first mistake: I was reviewing a deposition transcript that I had stored on my iPad and not really paying attention to what was going on around me. That’s when I got roughly poked on the shoulder by a sheriff’s deputy who then hissed at me: “No computers in the courtroom!

I complied.

But needless to say I was confused. Not a day goes by when I see scores of attorneys on their iPads, iPhones, Kindles, Blackberries, other smartphone or electronic device that meets the broad definition of the term “computer”. I sat there for a minute as I watched the attorney next to me send an e-mail on his blackberry and the one in front of me play a game on her iPhone.

Time to compound my first mistake: I wanted more information from this deputy about what I could or could not do in the courtroom. I followed the deputy out of the courtroom so I could ask for more information in a manner that was more than a whisper. This was a huge mistake because it was apparent that this deputy believed I was a terrorist and treated me as if I was hemorrhoid:
Me: Deputy, I’m sorry to bother but could you give me a little more information on the computer policy?
Deputy: I told you the policy, there’s no more information that you need.
Me: I just wanted you to clarify…
Deputy: I just clarified the policy!
Me: I’m sorry, I just wanted to get clarification on…
Deputy: There’s nothing to clarify, do you want to talk to my sergeant?
Me: I…”
Before I could finish this sentence a call went out on the radio in sheriffspeak and three other sheriff’s deputies appeared not five seconds after the first deputy made the call. One of the deputies, who I’ve interacted with on numerous other times and had a pleasant casual-smalltalk relationship with acted as the lead:
Smalltalk Deputy: What seems to be the problem?
Me: I was just attempting to find out from this deputy what the ‘no-computer’ policy entailed because I didn’t want to violate any other rule that I wasn’t aware of, that’s all I was trying to do.
Smalltalk Deputy: Gotcha. We’ve got orders from our sergeant that computers aren’t to be used in the courtrooms. Nothing big and if you could help us out, that’s all we are trying to do here.
Me: Absolutely. I just didn’t know about the policy and that’s the information I was wanting to know.
Smalltalk Deputy: No problem. Thanks for your help.
This deputy was easygoing and nice to deal with (unlike the first deputy) and I thought that this wrapped up this situation. I told the assembled group thank you and I walked back inside the courtroom to find that my case was being called. I finish the matter, get the order drafted and head up to the court clerk, who I have a decent working relationship with and I ask him for advice:
Clerk: What was going on with the deputies?
Me: I was trying to get more information from them but it didn’t go so well. Who would I talk in the sheriff’s office about courtroom policies?
Clerk: You’d want to head downstairs and go to their office. Just ask for the captain and he’ll be able to help you out.
Me: Thanks so much.
Clerk: (He looks up from our conversation) But I think they are already here for you.
I turn around and find one of the deputies from earlier as well as a sergeant intently staring at me with looks that best reserved for child molesters. I head back to them (not that I had a choice since they were blocking the courtroom door) and brace for impact.
Me: Hi there.
Sergeant: Please step in here. [We go in the court conference room] I’ve asked my deputy to join us so that you won’t get confused about what we are going to discuss.
Me: I’m sorry, did you say confused?
Sergeant: Yes I did. I know that you will likely try and twist my words and I don’t want there to be any doubt as to what I am going to tell you.
Me: Sir, I’m not sure what you’ve been told, but all I was looking for was more information. My name is Namby. [I stick out my hand to shake] What’s yours?
Sergeant: Sergeant Jones.
Me: [To the deputy] And yours?
Deputy: Deputy Smith.
Me: Nice to meet you both. I think we got off to a bad start here. I was only trying to get more information from the deputy that saw me in the courtroom about a no computer policy…
Sergeant: What don’t you understand, counselor? THERE ARE NO COMPUTERS IN THE COURTROOM!!! You’ve been acting in an unprofessional manner this entire time and interfering with my personnel. You are a lawyer, you should known better than this.
Me: Again, I’m sorry. But this is an honest search for information. I don’t want to violate any rule that I don’t know about. I’m not trying to be a pain or unprofessional, just the opposite, I am searching for what I can or cannot do in the courtroom. This has escalated much too far when I just wanted basic information.
Sergeant: There are to be no computers in the courtroom.
Me: What about using my phone?
Sergeant: You are to never use your phone in the courtroom. Any other questions, SIR?
Me: That’s it. Thank you for the clarification.
And that was that.

What flummoxes me most about this incident is that I was (a) not being an asshole, (b) making sure that I showed great respect to these Sheriff’s deputies and (c) I was not being an asshole! From the moment I asked the first deputy for more information, things imploded. Maybe if I had been an asshole it would have ended differently (i.e. with me actually being handcuffed or accepting of their assholedom or both).

I walked out of this conference room and went back to my briefcase sitting in the courtroom. The deputies immediately exited the courtroom and went back to whatever they do when they aren’t dealing with yours truly. I grabbed my briefcase and looked up at those assembled:

Out of the 20-some attorneys present, more than half were playing with their iPhones and Blackberries.