Jul 8, 2012 3:15 PM

Specialist makes defendants presentable for court

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - Unkempt hair.

An array of tattoos.

Ratty or revealing clothes.

Facial piercings.

These are not forms of self-expression defense attorneys want when their clients are in front of a jury.

"A client's appearance is huge, and so is their body language," said Steve West, a Tucson defense attorney. "I absolutely want my clients to look clean-cut. I think that shows respect for the court and for the process."

That's where Vicki Broom comes in.

The senior administrative support specialist in the Pima County Public Defender's Office maintains a clothes closet for defendants. Inside are more than 60 pairs of men's and women's shoes and dozens of slacks, blouses, dress shirts, suit coats and ties.

Some items have been donated, others bought by Broom. She goes to the jail every week to measure defendants heading for trial. If she's lucky, she'll be able to find enough outfits to mix and match for the entire trial.

If nothing fits, she hits local thrift stores.

Short, big-bellied guys are difficult to dress, as are short women with large breasts, Broom said. Tall men are also a nightmare.

Two years ago, Broom had to find clothes for 6-foot 5-inch Ronald Young, a now-convicted murderer whose trial lasted two months.

She and Pima County Public Defender Lori Lefferts ended up ordering some of Young's clothes from eBay.

Jail officials have one rule for Broom - loafers only. Security rules prohibit inmates from wearing shoes with laces.

Broom herself has one more - no black shirts.

"People look at black shirts and think 'villain,'" she said.

Defendants also get haircuts, and beards are trimmed or shaved off. Tattoos sometimes get covered up.

Finally, clients get a lecture on demeanor and attitude on the eve of trial. West gives his clients a legal pad and tells them two things: Keep your hands away from your face so it won't look like you're hiding, and use the legal pad to jot down questions or comments.

People on trial need to show they are interested in what's going on around them, and dressing appropriately is part of that, said defense attorney Sean Bruner.

The trick is to put clients in clothing they look nice in, but without making them look uncomfortable.

Bruner and West both said they let their male clients decide whether to wear slacks or a suit. Ties are optional, too.

Attorney Richard Bock, however, prefers his clients to wear a tie and jacket - and the shirt must be blue, white or yellow.

"I like the traditional look," Bock said.

He bristles at the thought that defense attorneys are trying to make their clients look like someone they are not.

"I don't think anyone is there to deceive anyone. The court is dignified, sanctified," he said, "and people need to acknowledge that."

Regardless of defense attorneys' efforts to make over their clients, jurors base their decisions on the evidence rather than physical appearance, says Kellie Johnson, the chief criminal deputy in the Pima County Attorney's Office.

However, Johnson fully supports the policy that prohibits jurors from seeing defendants being brought into the courtroom wearing handcuffs and shackles. If they saw the shackles, jurors would undoubtedly leap to the conclusion that the defendant was dangerous and that extra security measures needed to be taken.

Carol Gaxiola, executive director of Homicide Survivors, said advocates always try to prepare victims' family members for the drastic appearance change that often takes place. Once-"thuggy-looking" defendants often turn into choirboys by the time their trial begins, she said.

Their words of warning, though, often don't convince family members that the courtroom makeovers are appropriate.

"It feels unfair to the families," Gaxiola said. "It feels like the person they perceive to have turned their life upside down is getting special treatment."


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