Adventures in Court-Sitting, Part II: DC Superior

by Philip Yabut in

On an extremely hot early summer morning, I embarked on my second day of courthouse self-orientation observation tours, this time the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.  In short, it was an exercise in re-orientation and sampling the nuances of DC's trial court.

This wasn't the first time I had visited the H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse, but every time I go I am amazed by the controlled chaos inside.  The courthouse is very reminiscent of a busy commuter train station.  There is a grand central lobby with a giant message board listing all of the judges and their courtroom numbers.  From that lobby you see wide hallways leading to rows of courtrooms, with plenty of seating for anyone waiting for their cases to come up, and each room's daily docket is usually taped on the wall next to the door.  On a normal day, there are dozens of people milling around, conferring with their families and/or attorneys or simply waiting around in silence.

The courtrooms themselves are unique in that the gallery seats are nothing like church pews, but are padded with arms like in a movie theater.  The room setup is circular, with a large round lit structure on the ceiling over the judge's bench, which makes it look like you're looking up inside the Hirshhorn Museum's "donut hole."  I sat in on a morning criminal docket, so I saw a few shackled defendants being led in and out of the holding room for scheduling hearings and guilty pleas.  There wasn't much else for me to see that morning, but it still was worth my time.

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