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Kingdom of the Court | by M.V. Jantzen
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Kingdom of the Court

The H. Carl Moultrie I Courthouse, seen from 6th & C NW. Washington, DC.


I was called for jury duty, and was surprised to find at the main entrance on D St that a meager taped-up announcement said cameras were not allowed in the building. I had my slim Canon 600 in my coat pocket and the larger Nikon D60 in my shoulder bag. I placed my keys and 600 in a plastic dish while my shoulder bag rode through the scanner. Sure enough, the guard said I had to surrender the camera to enter the building. I couldn't believe it. I'm OK with confiscating guns and knives and such... but cameras? Obedient plebeian that I am I let him take the 600 - he wrote my name on a sticker, then put the sticker on the camera and promised to return it when I went back out. After passing through the metal detector, my jaw was agape as I saw him place my camera in a cardboard box. Luckily, he failed to notice the larger and more expensive camera in my bag. I would have freaked out if they had tried to get me to surrender the D60, especially after seeing that flimsy cardboard box. But now I felt like a criminal, with my D60 as contraband. But during the entire morning in the jurors lounge I kept stewing over the injustice. Of course I understand judges banning photography in courtrooms. I can understand the annoyance of finding someone snapping pix in the middle of a trial. But the rest of the courthouse is public space! If the courts can't defend our civil liberties in their own courthouses, how can they be trusted to protect us in the courtrooms? Furthermore, banning cameras is even more onerous than banning photography. How dare some justice do such a thing. And yet, how stupid and inconsistent, since cell phones (with cameras) are accepted past the metal detectors.


I picked up my camera on the way out to lunch, and determined that I would not agree to surrendering my camera again - not the 600 and certainly not the D60. So, sure enough, on re-entry the guard saw the x-ray and asked if I had a camera in the bag. I affirmed my contraband, and after being told they would have to hold them for me I said "I'd rather not surrender my camera(s)." The guard told me to exit, suggesting I could leave it locked in the trunk of my car. Well of course even if I had a trunk available, that's a stupid indignation. So I walked out and never returned to jury duty. I feel bad for shirking my civic duty, but I feel worse about my idiotic government trampling on my rights.


Later that day, as I returned home, I realized that in my flustered state I had left my keys by the metal detector after lunch. Luckily a friend has spares. So the next day I had to return to the courthouse. I re-entered at lunch and asked if they still had my keys. The guard directed me to the security office across the lobby. Of course I had my D60 in my bag, but once again the guard failed to notice. So I retrieved my keys while carrying my forbidden camera in my bag. I was half-tempted to run around taking photos, seeing if they'd pounce on me, and wondering if I'd have to sue the DC courts. Bear in mind that of my three trips into the courthouse, they twice failed to notice my bulky SLR. If the chief justice is so convinced cameras are a threat to his courthouse, his minions are doing a poor job of protecting his crappy kingdom.

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Taken on April 15, 2008