Litigation: “All I Can Afford Is Sandals and Shorts”

It used to be, when I started practicing law, that lawyers dressed like lawyers.  Suits and ties in the office and in court.  Over the years, casual Fridays became more and more institutionalized in the office.  Ultimately, in many offices, every day became “casual Friday.”  The one constant however, was a suit and tie in court.

Well, just when you thought you’ve seen it all, you see something which demonstrates you haven’t, not by a long shot.

On April 10, 2014, the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, issued an order setting a hearing for April 28, 2014.  Incidentally, the case involved an aviation bankruptcy.  The order contains a paragraph entitled “Appropriate Attire,” which states:

“You are reminded that Local Rule 5072-1(b)(16) requires that all persons appearing in court should dress in business attire consistent with their financial abilities.  Shorts, sandals, shirts without collars, including tee shirts and tank tops, are not acceptable.”

This is the kind of warning I’m accustomed to seeing at restaurants or other types of retail establishments.  One can only imagine the kind of attire which has shown up in Judge McEwen’s courtroom worn by spectators.  Now, I know its Florida, and the phrase “business attire,” may actually include tee shirts and flip flops in the minds of some, particularly if that’s what their “financial abilities” dictate.

Reading this order as a comment on how some people have obviously shown up in federal court, I start thinking about the powdered wigs and robes worn by barristers in England and whether we ought to be moving back in that direction instead of telling people not to wear sandals, shirts, tee shirts or tank tops to court.

It’s a sad comment that it takes a federal judge to define what isn’t “appropriate attire” in a federal court.

(Originally posted April 18, 2014)

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