Your Honor, that was a forum, not a court

Editorial, Marin Independent Journal


There's a big difference between a public forum and a courtroom. That was evident at Marin's "Meet Your Judges Night" on Oct. 28 when Marin's bench invited the public to meet the county's jurists at the Marin Veteran's Memorial Auditorium.

Judge Stephen Graham, one of the event's organizers, said the goal of the forum was to make the courthouse and judges more approachable for the general public.

Unfortunately, Judge Graham seemed to confuse this public meeting, conducted away from the county's courthouse, with a courtroom, where he rightfully maintains control over the action and decorum.

Near the end of the forum, a Mill Valley attorney interrupted the event's decorum by repeatedly requesting to ask a question. Judge Graham ordered Marin Sheriff's deputies to remove him from the auditorium.

So much for a public forum. So much for approachability.

The attorney, Kenneth Schmier, was removed with a deputy pinning the man's arm behind his back and forcing him out of the auditorium. He was handcuffed, arrested on suspicion of resisting arrest and disturbing the peace.

Breaking the decorum of a public forum isn't exactly a public offense- and shouldn't be treated as if it were.

Marin probably couldn't build a jail big enough to hold all the people who overzealously exercise their freedom of speech at public meetings in this country. Our founding fathers would rather have citizens be overzealous than silent.

For their part, authorities say Schmier disrupted the meeting, but the event was a public forum, and the judges should have been ready, willing and able to consider a question even if it didn't fit the event's question-and-answer format. After all, it was the judges who had stepped out of their controlled venues and into a public discussion.

Graham should have called on the man, let him ask question and tried to answer it.

This was not a courtroom, and these deputies shouldn't have been there to serve as bailiffs. They were there to provide security for California Supreme Court Justice Kay Werdegar, who spoke at the forum.

It was worthwhile to conduct the forum and try to overcome what may perceive judges' and courts' "unapproachable" image.

It's too bad that this judge's decision near the end backfired, defeating the very purpose that had brought everyone to "Meet Your Judges Night."