Contempt of Court Citation, Averted

At the start of the month, I received a rather ominous letter letting me know that the photos I took documenting my Jury Duty experience were in violation of local court rules. More than that, the letter stated that my “willful actions could result in a Contempt of Court Citation.”

Needless to say, I was pretty alarmed by this.

To add a bit of closure to the story… everything worked out. I ended up contacting the person who wrote the letter (Michael W. Dobbins, clerk of court) and discussed the matter over the phone. At first, we had played phone tag some… and the messages he left me had me worried. His tone was pretty dry and all business, with little humor.

However, after talking things over with him, my sense of things vastly improved. I explained that I was just looking to document the experience, and that it was never my intent to willfully post images that were against the law. At one point in the conversation, I even got him to laugh on the phone… which eased my mind to some considerable degree.

In our discussions, I learned that the areas where photography is limited (in the “Court environs,” or pretty much anywhere above the ground floor) are that way due to safety concerns. Because there are cases involving gangs, drugs, guns, and all sorts of unsavory things… having actual photographs of jurors puts those jurors at some degree of risk.

All in all, the rules against photography were for juror safety – to ensure that those there attending to cases could do so without fear of being identified, or connected to a particular trial/case.

I told Michael that I had removed the offending images from the blog posts, and also deleted the images outright from my server. This seemed to be an acceptable solution, and Michael asked that I send him an email, recapping our discussion, my original intent with posting the images, and my subsequent actions in removing the images.

He would take my email, he said, show it to the judges, and “put this matter behind us.” Which, to my great relief, sounded great.

In addition to the email, I also printed up a letter, signed it, and sent it in as well. One can never be too sure about these things.

In the end, things worked out pretty well, and I count myself a bit lucky. Though there was the use of a conditional “could” in the money sentence of the letter I received… the phase “Contempt of Court” just sort of stands out.

For all you bloggers out there who are thinking about documenting your Jury Duty experiences… let this be a little warning for you. Leave the camera at home, unless you want to receive a letter that will almost certainly cause you to start sweating, immediately.

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