By Jedidiah McKeehan
If you have ever watched a movie or TV show involving a courtroom scene, somewhere during that scene there may have been an instance of a judge banging their gavel and demanding that the courtroom come to order. Or sometimes, the judge will pronounce their ruling on a case and then bang their gavel to punctuate the finality of their ruling before they walk out of the room.
Do things like that really happen? In my experience, no.
Let’s break this down by starting with the basics. What is a gavel anyway? Think of a rubber mallet, and then imagine that the rubber mallet is made out of wood. That is essentially what a gavel is. And if you use a gavel to hit another piece of wood, like a wooden table, the sound is very, very loud. How did gavels become the thing that judges used to quiet a courtroom? I have no idea, but when most people see a picture of a gavel, they associate that with the legal system in some capacity.
Since I started practicing law in 2007 I have been in hearings across East and Middle Tennessee and have been in front of close to 100 judges. I can honestly say that of those judges, maybe only one or two even possessed a gavel, and I cannot recall any of them ever actually having to use their gavel. Why is this? Why are gavels not used anymore?
My best guess is that most courtrooms have microphones for the judge to speak into so what the judge says is heard by the entire courtroom, and if the courtroom ever becomes especially loud (usually by too many lawyers making small talk with each other all simultaneously), then the judge will simply speak in to the microphone and say something like, “Let’s keep it down in the courtroom, please.” The next step above that is the judge having the bailiff address any specific concerns with someone directly about their disruptive behavior or their level of noise.
I should note, occasionally you will see a bailiff bang a gavel at the beginning of the day and announce that the court date is starting, but there are only a couple of courtrooms in which I have seen that occur.
Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties. He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit attorney-knoxville.com for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.