Welcoming the Warning Signs

“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.”

He did.

“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.

source

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.

***

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9 Responses to Welcoming the Warning Signs

  1. Ironic how this writing came right after the mass school shooting in florida…the killer was a student known for his threats against students, been told NOT to come to school with a backpack and yet he manages to kill 17 innocents. There had been many warning signs to the teachers and students. He himself had gotten warnings. As a former teacher I remember having to deal with students that were potential threats, like bombs waiting to go off. When I asked, why couldn’t something be done about these types of kids all I was told “we have to educate them also.” which i felt was a piss poor excuse because when someone like that was in my room, those other kids usually did not get their education as many times it was just crowd control.

  2. Laura Droege says:

    I appreciate these glimpses into the courtroom and a judge’s mindset, Tim. I hadn’t realized that someone would be removed from the courtroom after communicating with the person in custody, though I suspected that might be the case. (Yay! I got one legal detail in my novel correct.)

    What an appropriate way of approaching the topic of warnings: giving and receiving them. It is hard for most people to give them in an appropriate manner, I think, and it’s hard to hear them. But they are necessary for the safety of many people. Once I received a warning for speeding near the police precinct headquarters and in an inactive school zone. The officer was very kind and gave me a warning rather than a ticket (when I clearly deserved one! I was going 45 in a 40 zone.) Later, I felt prompted to write a thank you letter to the police in that particular precinct, letting them know that thanks to this officer’s warnings, I was making a conscious attempt to stay below the speed limit. I figured that the police didn’t get a lot of thank you notes, so they may’ve thought it was weird, but the warning really did help keep me mindful that the law was there to keep me, other drivers, and the students safe.

  3. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    I love the courtroom example and the larger lesson you draw from it. I think it’s often human nature to disregard warnings: maybe we don’t want anyone telling us what to do; or we think the bad outcome couldn’t possibly happen to us. Even if the other person has the wisdom of experience (a parent, for instance), and even if it’s kindly given, we often just don’t WANT to heed the warning. We’d save ourselves a lot of heartache if we took more time to listen.

  4. Velour says:

    I am glad that you were gentle, Tim, with the young man who violated the court’s rules and California law in talking to his friend in custody in your courtroom. I will, say, however that I hate the Matthew 18:15-17 verses because they are used as “clobber verses” by authoritarian pastors/elders and “Christians” with no appropriate boundaries. They are used for the most vicious conduct that I have ever seen in churches, unbecoming Christ and His followers. It’s used for gossip, busy-bodies, being a know-it-all, interfering in other peoples’ business that is their right/conscience, kicking people out of churches on trumped up charges, kicking out people for being sick and not attending church, kicking out the elderly and poor for not “tithing” and on and on. I have never seen more arrogant people (usually men, along with some hateful women) do so much damage as using those verses. It’s like giving a chainsaw to a 4-year old.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      “How can I get away with what I wanna do?” + “I Have a Verse!” = REAL bad combination.

      (Hi, Velour! Missing you on all those other blog threads.)

  5. Tim says:

    Praying. Please call a crisis hotline immediately.

    • Thank you. The thing’s been acting out a lot less recently. I’m really confused right now about what’s right and what’s wrong. This thing has managed to pervert everything I knew (or at least, thought I knew). Please pray for spiritual discernment and clarity. I will be praying for you and your family as well.

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