Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, October 26, 2006


Page 15



Judges Crack Down on Eating Peanuts in the Courtroom




News item: “Eating peanuts is prohibited in the court at Petersburg, Va.”

That comes from the New York Herald’s issue of June 29, 1869.

Munching on snack foods in court was not, at that time, generally frowned upon.

In 1859, abolitionist John Brown was tried in Virginia for treason, stemming from his assault on the U.S. Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry. According to an article by Prof. Douglas O. Linder on the website of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law:

“The nearly 600 spectators who crowded the courtroom continuously opened peanuts and chestnuts, then tossed the shells on the floor so they crunched noisily when anyone walked on them.”

The Atchison (Kansas) Globe on Feb. 4, 1882 carried this report, reprinted from the Hiawatha Dispatch:

“Judge Martin, one day last week, stopped proceedings in a case before him long enough to give a severe rebuke to some of the sorghum-lappers who were eating peanuts in the court room, and informed them that the court room was no more a place for eating peanuts, apples, etc., or smoking cigars, than a church. Some of the yeomanry who remembered how, when Judge Price used to occupy the dignified position now ably filled by Judge Martin, everybody who wanted to, smoked and ate peanuts and apples (which were then luxuries not to be scoffed at) and then the Judge himself sometimes sat with his feet cocked up on the desk, a cigar in his mouth, and a hole in the seat of his pants, were taken considerably by surprise by the rebuke.”

Judge Martin certainly does seem like a party-pooper, doesn’t he?

The Fort Wayne (Indiana) Evening Post on March 31, 1896 told of this proceeding:

“Viola Woodward filed her application for divorce this morning about 9 o’clock. At 11 o’clock the case came to trial….During the trial [husband Clyde] Woodward, who had been eating peanuts in a rear seat strolled out of the door and was soon meandering about the streets.”

(The husband was haled back into court and briefly jailed to coerce him to testify in the matter. He did testify, but was spitting so much during his testimony that the cuspidore was taken away from the witness stand. The judge granted the divorce, but announced that in the future, he would require that a defendant in a divorce case be subpoenaed and would have to stick around for the entire trial…otherwise, he wouldn’t handle the case.)

The Janesville (Wisc.) Gazette on March 10, 1870 told of one judge (chances are, a justice of the peace) who had no objection to peanut consumption in his courtroom. In fact, he might even have sold lawyers the munchables. The article said:

 “A judge at Sank Rapids, Minn., is keeper of the provision and grain store, and holds his court there, amid quarters of beef, bins of grain and sacks of flour strewn about the floor. Frequently he is obliged to leave the bench to wait on customer, the lawyers meanwhile eating peanuts and cracking jokes.”

Of course, judges, too, like peanuts. The Freeborn Country (Minn.) Standard on Jan. 27, 1876, made mention of this scene in a courtroom in Omaha, Neb.: “A lawyer was addressing a judge, and the judge was eating peanuts and reading a novel.”

Here are some news stories on judges barring the eating of peanuts:

“A Judge in Iowa, in beginning his charge to the Jury said: ‘Gentlemen of the Jury, you must now quit eating peanuts and attend to the case.’ ” Ohio Democrat, June 5, 1874

“Remark by Judge McCredy, in a court at New London, Ct.: ‘The Sheriff will kindly request the gentlemen of the jury to desist from eating peanuts. This is not n circus.’ ” —Freeborn County (Minn.) Standard, Nov. 20, 1879.

“It doesn’t pay to be too fresh in Florida. For eating peanuts in a Tampa court the Judge fined a man $5.” Davenport (Iowa) Gazette, April 21, 1886.

The eating of peanuts in courtrooms did not end in the 19th Century. An Aug. 13, 1960 article in the Saturday Evening Post told of a 1956 murder trial in Georgia at which “[o]ld men peddled peanuts in the courtroom and small boys sold cold drinks.”

In case you’re wondering if it’s OK to eat peanuts in Los Angeles courtrooms, well, sorry, it’s not. A local rule says: “Persons in the courtroom shall not converse, smoke, read newspapers, chew gum or eat food, etc. while court is in session.” But that’s only when the court is in session. So, it must be acceptable to crack nuts and toss the shells on the floor during the recess.

Otherwise, of course, there’d be a sign posted saying, “No peanuts in this courtroom at any time.”

I remember a bailiff in the courtroom of Barbara A. Meiers, back in the Municipal Court days, eating a watermelon during the recess and spitting out the seeds. So, I’m certain Babs wouldn’t mind peanuts in her courtroom. Don’t worry about the mess; she’d be happy to sweep up.

Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company

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