Judge bans children from Sampson County district courts

CLINTON, N.C. (WNCN) – Thursday is the last time small children will be allowed in Sampson County district courts.

Chief District Court Judge Paul Hardison recently announced a courtroom ban on children under six years of age. It goes into effect April 1, and also prohibits children in hallways in the area of courtrooms.

Hardison addressed his memo to all persons entering Sampson County’s district courts, and wrote it is “an attempt to reduce noise and disruptions that occur when children are unable to remain quiet for extended periods of time.”

Several people at the Clinton courthouse Wednesday said they agree with Hardison’s decision.

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“I think children in the courtroom are just a distraction to others, and it’s not fair to anybody if a child is loud,” Sandy Naylor said.

“I saw several kids and they had to be taken out because they couldn’t be still or they were being a little loud.”

In 2015, Hardison banned people from bringing their cell phones into the court house. That measure serves to eliminate cell phones as a distraction, but also to protect the privacy of people in the courtroom from being photographed by smartphones.

Sampson County District Courts also have a dress code, and Denise Eliason said all of those elements together are a good thing to show proper respect to the courtroom and officers of the law.

“They should stop (children) at the door. From then on, (people) should be in proper attire and everything,” Eliason said.

“You’re going up before this judge, this man who has the power. I mean, he’s not God, but he’s pretty close to it when he’s got the power to put you in jail.”

Eliason and Naylor both said keeping kids out of courtrooms also benefits the children. They said children do not need to be exposed to some of the things that happen during legal proceedings court.

Children will still be allowed in the courthouse building as long as they are not in courtroom areas.

Tayaka James took her infant daughter with her for a quick visit to the tax assessor’s office Wednesday. However, she said she would make arrangements for someone else to babysit her child if she needed to be in court.

“Everybody can’t focus with a lot of distractions in front of the judge,” James said.

“We’re not just sitting there for a long period of time (in the tax assessor’s office). Children get restless, and that can become a distraction for people trying to handle serious matters.”

Hardison’s order instructs parents to make child care arrangements prior to court dates, and said that failing to do so could result in contempt of court charges.

Not everyone approves of the decision. Several people who asked to remain anonymous said they oppose the ban because they don’t think parents should be punished for not having child care. One man said court could be the last opportunity for a child to see a convicted parent before they go to jail.

The order has exceptions for the hour before court begins, during the afternoon lunch break from 12:30 to 2:00, and after court recesses for the day.

Sampson County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Marcus Smith said deputies will not allow any infants or toddlers, but they will not be verifying children’s ages. Smith said parents will basically be on an honor type of system when it comes to identifying if their child is six years of age or older.

However, judges can have children and adults of any age removed from courtrooms for being disruptive.

Hardison did not respond to a request for comment.

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