A D.C. Superior Court judge yesterday ordered two courtroom spectators jailed for two days each after they refused to rise to their feet when he entered the courtroom.
Later, the judge, John R. Hess, citing "respect for the judicial system" as the reason he had jailed the two men, ordered them released after they had served about five hours in the courthouse cellblock.
The men -- Todd Kaplan, 23, of 1345 Euclid Street NW, and Colin Kerbawy, 26, of Lansing, Mich. -- cited religious and personal beliefs as their reasons for not standing upon the judge's entrance. A clerk or bailiff customarily asks spectators to stand whenever a judge enters a courtroom here, a common practice in most U.S. courts.
When Hess entered the courtroom shortly after 9:30 a.m. yesterday, Kaplan and Kerbawy remained seated to his right in the first and second rows of the courtroom, spectators said.
The judge called them forward and asked their names.
"Did you hear the clerk instruct everybody to rise when the court opened this morning?" the judge asked Kaplan, according to an official court transcript.
"Yes, I did," Kaplan responded.
"Did you rise?" the judge asked.
"No, sir," Kaplan said.
The judge asked why. "For me, it's a principle that I rise only for God and a person who I feel is a religious person," Kaplan replied. "That is my policy."
"What about you, sir?" Hess then asked Kerbawy. "I feel that you should be given no more respect than anybody else," Kerbawy said.
"All right," Hess said. "Just to make it clear, it's not personal respect, it's respect for the judicial system. You are both held in summary contempt of court. That will be two days in jail. Take them back."
The men said later they spent the day in the cellblock dining on bologna sandwiches.
Hess released them after extracting promises from them that in the future they would rise when he entered the courtroom. Without the promises, he said, they would be barred from the court.
Lawyers and other court observers interviewed yesterday said they could remember no similar circumstance where spectators had been jailed for failing to rise when a judge entered a courtroom. A number of judges, in fact, specifically instruct spectators to "remain seated" at the start of court proceedings.
"It was not planned as a protest," Kaplan said "It was not carried out as a protest, it was something I'd do in any other situation. I have never had any problem with judges by not standing before."
Kaplan told the judge his action was based on the Jewish religion, but Hess said there was nothing in Judaism to support such a theory. Kaplan said he would avoid future confrontations by entering the courtroom only after the judge was seated.
Kaplan and Kerbawy said they had come to court to watch the trial of five demonstrators arrested during a White House protest last April 15 sponsored by the Community for Creative Non-Violence, a peace activist group here.