What happens outside of the courtroom?
February 20, 2014 12:34 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone know if there are any people who work in the area outside of a courtroom? Maybe like security guards or someone like that? I'd like to show someone waiting for the doors of a courtroom to open and am trying to think of who might be there (besides someone who's especially interested in what's happening in there) Thanks so much!
posted by sunnyblues48 to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
In the United States, the entrance to the courthouse usually has a metal detector, manned by court officers (or, in federal court, U.S. Marshalls).
posted by ewiar at 12:44 PM on February 20, 2014

Based on experience with jury duty, there will be security as you suggest. Also people waiting for other proceedings and other courtrooms. You might find a bailiff or other functionary waiting for his next task. Compared to fiction, i think spectators and reporters are probably scarce, except for a really big tria
posted by SemiSalt at 12:44 PM on February 20, 2014

You'll often find attorneys outside courtrooms, either meeting with clients or waiting for their courtroom to open. Outside a criminal courtroom, you'll often finds tons of people. Defendants waiting for the doors to open, attorneys' meeting with clients, police officers talking to prosecutors, some attorneys might have paralegals with them in the halls. Busy courthouses are frequently very crowded in the hallways.

What you won't usually find is a lot of spectators or reporters. It happens occasionally, but it's pretty rare. The occasional big trial will bring out a reporter or two and you might see law students who've been assigned to watch proceedings, but most everyone there is there to appear in court.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:47 PM on February 20, 2014

My fiance had to testify in city court a couple of years ago and there were tons of people milling around in the hallway. Families, other people that had to testify, cops, people who had to appear in front of the judge for some reason, lawyers, security.
posted by ghharr at 12:48 PM on February 20, 2014

The (small) courthouse that I work at has four courtrooms. There are sheriff's deputies who work the front doors of the building, where everyone has to go through metal detectors. The doors to each individual courtroom are locked until the clerks are ready for court, at which point another deputy (there are usually two in each courtroom) will unlock the doors. In addition to the deputies, there are the staff that work the check-in window-- they mark down who is ready to go to make the clerk's job easier. They also work with defendants who need court-appointed attorneys to determine how much they might be able to contribute to the cost. Often these employees (our court has 8) will sit outside the courtrooms with defendants and talk them through the process/paperwork. Sometimes there are interpreters who will wander between the courtrooms until they are needed.
posted by karminai at 12:49 PM on February 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Based on jury duty experience (criminal trial), there's no security outside a courtroom unless it's a very high-profile trial. There will be a bailiff inside; in California, they are sheriff's deputies.

If there's a case being heard, people outside the courtroom might be witnesses waiting to testify, attorneys waiting to talk to someone inside, family members, and like that. There may also be jurors from another case who are on a short recess and just hanging around the hallway waiting to be called back to their own courtroom.
posted by rtha at 12:50 PM on February 20, 2014

The hall outside of a courtroom is self is a public area so after getting inside the building and what ever security there is there you really can find all kinds of people....people waiting to testify, friend/families of those on trial, jurors, police, expert witnesses, attorneys, and court officers.
posted by Captain_Science at 12:51 PM on February 20, 2014

A friend had to give a deposition for something pretty shitty, so I went with her for moral support. I wasn't allowed in while it was going on, so I waited outside a courtroom for about two hours.

In addition to the cop manning the metal detector, there was a guard manning the house phone. No cell phones inside the building, so if folks needed to make a call, that was what they used.

Due to lack of space, there were also a handful of folks having meetings with their public defenders right out there in the hallway. There's probably a lawyery term for this, but they were doing basic interviews, talking about the charges they had against them, telling them what they thought their best shot was for making a plea, going on probation, whatever. It was interesting.

There was also a woman there running back and forth between the phone, the parking lot, and one of the public defender's offices where she was trying to scrape money together for her boyfriend who was there for...something. I don't think it was bail money but I don't know.

Lots of activity, but it somehow managed to be overwhelmingly quiet and boring in spite of it.
posted by phunniemee at 12:51 PM on February 20, 2014

In most U.S. courts where I've appeared, there are security checkpoints at the courthouse doors, but the courtrooms themselves have their doors in hallways where there are typically a few benches to sit on. In civil litigation matters, the hallway outside the courtrooms is usually occupied by a handful of lawyers and maybe a client or two sometimes, usually waiting not for a trial but for their time to appear for a motion hearing, status conference, or something like that. In the parts of the courthouse where the criminal and family law matters are heard, you get a lot more people in the hallway, as Bulgaroktonos noted.

I strongly recommend going to your local courthouse in the morning and observing firsthand in the various parts of the courthouse, noting what it's like outside courtrooms hearing matters similar to what you're hoping to portray.
posted by The World Famous at 12:52 PM on February 20, 2014

Is the hearing/trial in your movie open or closed? (Family court is often closed.) Is it high profile or just regular everyday stuff? Is the courthouse old or new? Big or small?

There are always security guards, folks waiting for traffic court, lawyers on cell phones near the windows, people holding low-voiced conversations (both of these last couple things are noisy and you can't do them in the courtroom). You might have the entrance to a few courtrooms near each other and a local reporter (in a city of 100,000 or more, not a tiny county) might have grabbed an attorney coming out of a different courtroom for a quick interview.

In an older courthouse, you'll often have a very large central atrium with lots of echoey marble, usually with a second-floor balcony, with all the rooms opening off of that area, and there's usually lots of random benches and a few old tables standing in corners; the offices (like the county clerk, say) are typically very cramped because they're old and small, so people who need to fill out a form that's going to take a few minutes will often step out into the atrium area and find a corner with a table or a bench.

There are always, without exception, slouching grumpy teenagers whose parent is there to pay a fine or fill out a form or go to traffic court and who is sulkily waiting in the hallway NEAR the clerk's office (whether this is near the courtroom would depend on your building) or outside the courtroom.

You can actually go to your county courthouse and look around the hallways/atriums/waiting areas. Leave your cell phone in the car (a lot of courthouses have rules about them because of the cameras) and just go look around. It's a public building. You can do that. You don't even have to say why, but you can totally tell the security guard at the entrance, "I'm a filmmaker and I'm trying to get a feel for what it looks like outside courtrooms during the daytime so I can recreate it on my set, where would be a good place to look?" (Be ready to reassure them you're just looking WITH YOUR EYES and you don't have any cameras with you.) If it's a modern courthouse this might be a little unusual, but older courthouses totally get courthouse tourists all the time who are just coming to admire the building. Either way you're totally allowed to just go look.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:53 PM on February 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Does anyone know if there are any people who work in the area outside of a courtroom? Maybe like security guards or someone like that?

To the extent that there is security, it is almost always at the entrance to the building, not the entrance to individual courtrooms.

Who is waiting outside depends a lot on what's going on. If it's a criminal court or family law block schedule cattle call, there could be dozens of defendants and attorneys. If it's a civil hearing for a particular case, there's likely to be nobody, as the handful of people involved will already be inside.
posted by valkyryn at 12:53 PM on February 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another jury-duty experience, in a smallish city in MA: metal detector + security guard at building entrance, then a couple of plastic chairs in an otherwise empty hallway, then doors to a juror waiting room over thisaway and the door to the court over thataway and probably to other things over other ways. There were a handful of spectators in the courtroom itself but nobody waiting around outside.
posted by ook at 12:54 PM on February 20, 2014

I've been to a couple of name change hearings (you need to bring witnesses here). In Minneapolis, you either end up hanging out in a totally deserted hallway or a hallway with other people waiting for other court rooms. The other people are overwhelmingly cops gossiping about whatever. There are metal detectors, but they're at the entrance to the elevators, 10 floors below. The first time, we were nervously standing around for like 15 minutes wondering if we were in the right place, as there was no one.
posted by hoyland at 12:54 PM on February 20, 2014

Whether someone is outside the courtroom depends substantially on what is happening inside the courtroom. On most days, a courtroom is not booked for the entire day and the judge will use the courtroom, if at all, for brief hearings related to various civil cases on her docket, or over which she has responsibility.

At those moments, I have never seen anyone working outside the courtroom. You go into the courthouse, find the appropriate courtroom, open the double doors, and walk in. This has been true in every single courtroom I have been in, no matter the jurisdiction. There may be some jurisdictions that have unusually heavy security in which the marshals or sheriff deputies actually are regularly posted outside of courtroom doors, but this would be unusual in my experience.

If there is a matter in a criminal case, a marshal or sheriff's deputy or someone else will typically be standing by, but often actually inside the courtroom, not outside of it. In cases that attract unusual media attention there could be someone posted outside of the courtroom.

If there is a civil trial, it is possible there is an actual security person like a marshal or sheriffs office personnel, although unlikely. What is more likely is that there is a bailiff, who is more like an administrative assistant, inside the courtroom. There will be nobody outside of the courtroom.
posted by MoonOrb at 12:56 PM on February 20, 2014

In addition to the above, I've noticed the occasional cleaning crew.
posted by trip and a half at 12:58 PM on February 20, 2014

When I say there will be nobody outside the courtroom, I mean there will be nobody who is "working" outside of the courtroom. There may or may not be people outside of the courtroom doors: lawyers and clients waiting for their cases to begin, adminstrative personnel walking around, etc. But none of these people are required to be there and may or may not be there at any given time.
posted by MoonOrb at 12:58 PM on February 20, 2014

Echoing everyone else: deputy sheriffs, jurors, clerks and other administrative folks who work in the courthouse, stenographers, plaintiffs/defendants and their respective lawyers, families of same. The occasional uniformed police, because they are testifying (or just passing through). You might see a prisoner under escort being moved around, depending on the courthouse.
posted by jquinby at 1:00 PM on February 20, 2014

From jury duty experience in Cincinnati: generally speaking no one is outside the courtroom. While walking around on breaks I hardly came across anyone except for other jurors on break. You'd occasionally see other people who were clearly trying to find the right room or office but generally it was deserted. There was hardly any visible security presence inside the building once you got past the metal detectors at the entrance of the building. The only exceptions were when were ready to announce our findings (it was a criminal trial) and when the judge accidentally hit his panic button. Having Sherrif's Deputies burst into the room was certainly interesting.

With that said, a modern courthouse is essentially a giant office building with all sorts of offices related to the running of the courts. In your fictional world you could put almost anyone outside of the courtroom and it would be plausible.
posted by mmascolino at 1:03 PM on February 20, 2014

It's a free country, or so they say. You could just go to your nearest courthouse, and check things out yourself -- you needn't be involved in a case to hang around the courthouse -- you can even observe most cases, as a visitor, sitting in the back. Anybody asks what you're up to, just tell them you're curious and want to see Justice in action.
posted by Rash at 1:14 PM on February 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Based on my recent experience with jury duty (late January 2014, Carroll County Circuit Court in Maryland):

There is a metal detector just inside the entrance to the court house. Much like airport security, you need to put any bags and anything metal on a conveyor belt to be x-rayed (but you don't need to take off your shoes). The metal detector was staffed by two security guards in uniform.

I went directly into the court room where the call-in instructions told me to report and sat down. I was a little late to arrive (8:20AM when reporting time was 8:15AM) so I am not sure if the court room would have been closed or guarded had I arrived exactly on time. I missed the table outside the court room doors where I had to sign in (and get paid), but they told me to do that when they came in and called names of people who hadn't signed in.

In the court room there was a person identified to us potential jurors as the bailiff (he was wearing the same uniform as the security guards at the metal detector) and three officers of the County Sheriff's office. These four people would take turns standing at the two exit doors, and you had to ask them permission to leave to (for example) go to the bathroom if you needed to.

During lunch break, the judge said we could leave the court house to buy lunch if we didn't want to eat in the court house cafeteria. I stupidly left my coat in the court room, but when I went back upstairs and opened the court room doors to get my coat, I was told by the bailiff I could not enter. He was sitting just inside the door next to one of the police officers.

So, no one was standing OUTSIDE the court room but there certainly were people there to prevent entry.

At the end of lunch break as more and more potential jurors were standing outside the court room, the balliff opened the door and said something like "okay, you can all come in now."
posted by tckma at 1:18 PM on February 20, 2014

I appear in federal courts across the country a few times a year. Once a courtroom opens in the morning, the hallway outside a federal courtroom will almost always be deserted, or just have a few people walking from a courtroom to the elevators. There's a few reasons for that. First, federal courthouses usually only have two or three courtrooms per floor, even though the building itself may be as big as a city block. So they're pretty spaced out, and unless you have a case in a particular courtroom, you'd have no reason to be on the floor. Second, federal court dockets are usually pretty spare -- 1 trial will take up an entire day in a courtroom, or 3 or 4 pre-trial motions will take up a morning. In federal appellate courts, four or five cases will take up a morning. On those motions or hearing days, once the courtroom opens, all of the parties and attorneys the motions will file into the courtroom and sit in the back so they can hear when their case comes up. Third, federal court proceedings tend to require extensive preparation, so there's no last-minute hallway negotiations over settlements or sentences that you might see in state court. Finally, courtrooms usually have antechambers between them and the hallway, and off of these antechambers are usually small conference rooms. Any last-minute conferences are likely to occur there, and not in the hallway.
posted by hhc5 at 2:58 PM on February 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

If it's a particular type of court (I have experience with family/juvenile court, but I'm guessing drug court and small claims court might be much the same), the same attorneys are always bumping into each other and often pull each other off into conversations about entirely different cases than the ones they're actually there for that day. Also, in my experience of family/juvenile court, there is one person who's the organizer-on-high for all the courtrooms. She's the person all the family members, attorneys, CASAs, social service workers, etc. check in with to make their presence known, as well as the person who knows when the judge and court reporter are ready to go. If this person is unhappy, *everyone* is unhappy. You learn on your very first visit to court to be genuinely grateful for this person's skills and talents.
posted by epj at 7:46 PM on February 20, 2014

Lots of good comments above, but I'll also add: my general experience is that movies and tv shows tend to make court look busy, with full hallways and full audience galleries in courtrooms. Those things certainly happen in real life, but it's much more common (at least in my world) for the hallways and galleries to be empty, or nearly so.
posted by pril at 7:49 PM on February 20, 2014

phunniemee, your account sounds more like a grand jury appearance than a deposition. depositions usually happen in a lawyer's office or a court reporter's deposition suite.

the security is usually at the entrance to the building. i have a longstanding legal ethics question about the propriety of billing the multiple clients i came there to help that day for my time spent in line, but i retired before 9/11, when we could just walk in and out...

inside, it all depends. there can be deputy sheriffs/other LEOs, clerks, court reporters, media, friends and family, and voyeurs. it might be deserted outside the probate department, but outside the family law department is where we negotiate settlements. a good ratio for a divorce lawyer is 2/3 settlement, 1/3 hearing, and you have to demonstrate your willingness to go to hearing in order to maintain credibility for settlements.

the courthouse is the palace of your rights as an american citizen, and i encourage you to familiarize yourself with what goes on there. you should also check out the other sources of valuable information like the registrar of voters, the assessor's office, the recorder's office, etc.
posted by bruce at 10:12 PM on February 20, 2014

On the two occasions I've been on a jury, the only time any security was involved was when the verdict was read. And, even then, they were primarily inside the courtroom. They were actual police officers, not "security" rent-a-cops.

Outside the courtroom, you would have a large group of regular people waiting to go through jury selection, some lawyers (basically suits with briefcases) with their clients, and the occasional courthouse worker walking through. It's a pretty average-looking and mundane crowd.

The only people actually dressed for business would be the lawyers. Their clients would probably be dressed as nicely as possible (for appearance). Both times I was called for jury duty, everyone's dress was all over the place. Mostly casual, including jeans. Some worse, some better.

Down at my county's courthouse, the waiting area is a common space serving three courtrooms. The walls are lined with bench seating, to handle the large number of people called for multiple jury selections.

Occasionally a uniformed police officer would walk through, but that was very rare.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:18 AM on February 21, 2014

I'm a foster parent so I've spent a good amount of time at our county's Family Court. To get into the courthouse proper you have to stand in a long boring line to go through a metal detector (there are four detectors, the line splits at the end) and have your bag searched. Then you take an elevator to the floor for whatever court you're going to. The Family Court floor has a big open lobby area on one side, with most of the courtrooms opening off of that. At one end of that lobby area there's a desk for people to check in, with a uniformed marshal there. There are uniformed guards/marshals/bailiffs/whatever outside each courtroom until a case gets called, at which point they head inside with the people involved; during the actual hearing, the bailiff person sits in a chair by the door and basically either shoos people away if they try to enter and aren't part of the case, or quietly direct them towards one of the benches in the back if they're there to observe the case in progress.

The lobby itself is a fascinating place. In our county all Family Court cases are scheduled for either 9:00 am or 1:00 pm. Everyone shows up at those designated times and just waits around until their case gets called. This means that there are a lot of people waiting for their hearings, lots of lawyers holding quiet meetings with their clients in full hearing of whoever's nearby, lots of social workers talking to clients, often there are kids who are bored out of their minds and acting up. Some of the defendants wear stuff that doesn't strike me as appropriate for wearing in front of a judge - sweatpants; Tweety Bird t-shirts; a denim half-vest as a shirt; a tiara; no shoes; ripped up jeans that show butt/thigh crease; visible swastika tattoos - but some are clearly trying and wearing shiny-new fancy clothes. The public defender attorneys uniformly wear crummy or ill-fitting shoes. Private attorneys dress much nicer and have nice briefcases instead of shapeless tote bags crammed with files. Social workers usually dress like they're going to work in a semi-professional office. I've never seen a reporter on the floor where Family Court is, but I don't know if that's because I've never been there when a major newsworthy case was being heard or because they're not allowed on that floor.

Every time I'm in that lobby I sit so I can see the doors of our courtroom (each judge has his or her own courtroom, so we're in the same courtroom for the duration of the foster care case) and watch the comings and goings. The bailiff is in charge of calling the people for the next case so he or she will have a general idea of who's ready to go in (i.e., all people needed are present - for us, that's the bio parents, an attorney for each of them, the county attorney, the social worker, and the attorney appointed to our daughter), so watching the bailiff can give you an idea of how long it will be until you're called.

I agree with the above posters that you can almost certainly just go to a courthouse and hang out. We once were called for my daughter's case, then they realized some necessary person was missing, so they called another case in the meantime. My husband and I sat in the back of the courtroom and observed and no one asked anything about it.
posted by SeedStitch at 6:16 AM on February 21, 2014

I appeared this morning in Los Angeles Superior Court in a civil case. I arrived about 20 minutes early and I was the only person in the hallway outside the courtrooms until my opposing counsel arrived a few minutes later.
posted by The World Famous at 12:30 PM on February 21, 2014

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