Thursday, December 15, 2005

Today's Boston Globe explained why Superior Court Judge Raymond J. Brassard instructs his male jurors to wear neckties.
''I think jury service is a serious occasion," he said during a break in his chambers, where he had removed his robe to reveal a silk maroon tie, a gift from his wife. ''And I think the whole system of law benefits when people walking into a courtroom -- witnesses, spectators, defendants -- look at the jury box and see that it's not just the lawyers who are formally dressed."

Formal occasions deserve formal attire. Every civilization, every civilization has respected the power of costume. Whether couched in mythical imagery or subliminal terms, the fact is that people think differently, react differently, behave differently when dressed to suit specific intent; and if there's even a chance that wearing a jacket and tie will unconsciously affect your sobriety as you consider whether to suspend another man's freedom, you owe that gesture.

The article quotes a Dorchester defense attorney, described as "a distinctive figure with his long mane of white hair and trademark bow tie," who takes issue with Judge Brassard's instruction. "I remember when we were a free country," the attorney said. "There might be people on the jury who don't know how to do a Windsor knot or a four-in-hand."

Then they can learn.

Perhaps that attorney also remembers a time when we valued our standards. Judge Brassard took his cue from former Superior Court Judge Robert Barton, a Marine veteran who started asking male jurors to dress appropriately in 1978. If jurors didn't own a tie, Judge Barton recommended that they borrow one from a father or older brother. He said, "I was very proud of the fact that till the day I stepped off the bench, my jurors were the best attired in the Commonwealth."

Most agree willingly. Some, the article concedes, fold under peer pressure. So what? Peer pressure is a perfectly appropriate social mechanism. The term was co-opted by after-school specials condemning smoking and drug use; but just like criminal profiling, peer pressure is a neutral tactic that can just as easily be used for good. In fact, peer pressure is exactly the point of the adage, "It takes a village to raise a child." The law and criminal penalty should be our tool of last resort in shaping the conduct of our citizens. Our primary mechanisms should be social.

Kudos to Judges Brassard and Barton. Jury duty is not a vacation. It's not a day off. On the contrary: It's a promotion, in responsibility if not salary. Yesterday, your job involved stocking shelves or tallying numbers or assigning homework; and today, you're deciding whether a man can go home to his wife. Dress the part -- and pray that a dozen of your peers will return the favor when it's your turn.


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