“Sir, you’ll need to leave the courtroom and wait in the hall.” The young man in the audience stared at me. “You can’t communicate with people in custody,” I said. “You need to leave now.”
He stood up just as the bailiff started to approach him, ready to help him leave if he didn’t do so of his own accord. The young man turned toward the door and made a gesture clearly indicating he thought this was ridiculous.
“Sir, please stop.”
“I’m leaving,” he said as the bailiff reached his side.
“Sir,” I repeated, “please stop.”
“The reason I’m telling you to wait in the hallway is that you were communicating with your friend in custody. You can get arrested for that. I’m trying to keep you from getting arrested. You don’t have to wait in the hall. You can go home or whatever. I just don’t want you to stay here and do things that will get you arrested.”
The bailiff saw I was done and directed the young man to the door.
Courtroom control, life control
One way to keep control of the courtroom is through clear directions, sometimes becoming clear warnings. Courtroom control can ultimately be maintained by holding someone in contempt for creating a disturbance. You don’t want that to happen to you, because it can result in jail time and a hefty fine.
I also don’t want that to happen to you. I haven’t jailed or fined anyone for creating a disturbance in court in the 22 1/2 years I’ve been on the bench. Clear directions and follow-up warnings have worked just fine.
People ought to welcome the directions and warnings, but I get the impression that many don’t.
It’s the same in the rest of life. Take railroad crossings, for example. As Jeremy White says, “I’d rather be delayed by a train than hit by one.” Yet most people, as Jeremy says, consider the arms swinging down and the bells ringing and the lights flashing to be more of a hindrance than a help.
Road signs are good, though, as my wife and I found out when traveling a back country Georgia road one night. We were following the directions on GPS and ascending a hill that got steeper with every foot we climbed. Suddenly there were large yellow arrows showing a left curve. I hit the brakes just as the car leveled out at the top, turned a sharp left, and shot down the slope. If I hadn’t taken the curve at that reduced speed, we’d have instead shot down a worse slope, the one straight over the edge and into the ravine the arrows helped us avoid.
I was glad for that warning.
You’ve probably been glad for some warnings too, even those that bring more concern than relief along with them.
- A call from your doctor saying your routine annual lab work has revealed something she wants you to see a specialist about. The specialist eventually tells you there’s a high chance of treating it successfully, but it will take a lot of time and effort.
- A note from your child’s school concerning grades and possible ineligibility for participating on athletic teams. Grades can be improved, but your daughter or son would rather just play sports. You have some hard parenting work ahead.
- A trip to your mechanic about squeaky brakes, where you get the news your brakes need replacing and your car isn’t safe to drive home.
Warnings like these are hard to hear, but they should also be welcome to receive. Consider the alternative.
Warnings of love
The Bible is full of warnings and advice about warnings.
Jesus warned his friends to be wary of those who would lead them away from God:
“Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” …
“How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matthew 16: 6, 11-12.)
God gives you friends, as well, who can give you good advice:
Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise. (Proverbs 19:20.)
Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted … . (Proverbs 27:5-6.)
This was the guide for God’s people in ancient times, and continues for God’s people today:
If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (Matthew 18:15-16.)
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. (Galatians 6:1.)
This advice cuts two ways: how you receive warnings and how you give them.
You might be in a situation where you need to receive a warning. It might come softly and gently (as in advice from your doctor), or it might come loudly and suddenly (as with railroad arms and lights and bells). The warning in either case is intended to save, and is appropriate to the situation.
What about when you give warnings to friends or family. Do you make sure to be as gentle as the situation will allow? Think of the young man in court. No one yelled at him, he wasn’t arrested for speaking to his friend in custody, he wasn’t held in contempt for interfering with the proceedings. He was warned not to repeat his actions so that he would know how to behave properly the next time he came to court. He might not have appreciated being told he had to leave, but he learned something that would keep him from getting himself into trouble.*
Wouldn’t you like to avoid trouble too? Wouldn’t you rather be delayed by a train than hit by one?
I thought you might.
*You might ask why the young man wasn’t allowed to stay in court after the warning. It’s a public safety issue. Once a person has started to communicate with a person in custody, the bailiff does not know whether it is part of a larger intent to create a disturbance or the person would heed the warning and cease communication. The bailiff must be able to watch over the safety of the entire courtroom and should not have her or his attention primarily drawn to a person who has already disturbed the proceedings once.