Bailiff enjoys variety of job minus the TV drama

Jacqueline “Jaye” Ware considers herself a traditional bailiff. Jaqueline Ware

“I could be defined as an old fashioned bailiff in that I take courtroom conduct and decorum seriously,” Ware said. “It is rare for me to joke or kid around with lawyers or parties in the courtroom as I believe it is essential that the court maintain every appearance of fairness, even more so if there are spectators.”

But she also realizes that putting jurors at ease is an important part of her role.

“I am more relaxed around the jurors, as I think it is important to put them at ease and help them feel valued and appreciated, particularly when they are essentially volunteering their service and time at $10 a day. I make every effort to avoid partiality and to do what is within my power to ensure members of the public contacting the court have a positive encounter and experience,” Ware said.

To open up dialogue and start a form of cooperation in the jury room, Ware leaves appropriate riddles for jurors to solve.  This allows them to begin working together and talking, since they are not permitted to talk about the trial until the case is given to the jury for deliberation at the conclusion of closing arguments. Sometimes special treats are provided to jurors if the case is relatively long.

Ware has served as a bailiff for King County for over 20 years and has been with the County for over 25 years.

“The job and duties are fairly extensive. We are not television bailiffs by any stretch of the imagination, standing at attention and joking with the judge when the show calls for some sort of interaction,” Ware said.

As a bailiff, Ware makes sure the court runs smoothly and efficiently. She manages the jury and all civil trials assigned to the court at filing; schedules all civil, family law, criminal, and other hearings that appear before the court; maintains a paper and electronic filing system; and must be knowledgeable about a wide variety of calendars, forms, and legal documents. The bailiff is the first line of contact and communication between the public and the judge.

In another departure from TV courtroom dramas, King County bailiffs don’t wear uniforms or carry guns, Tasers, or mace. If there is an issue or situation requiring security, there are cameras in the courtroom and security is contacted at the push of a button for immediate response. The cameras allow them to see what is taking place in the courtroom.

Before becoming a bailiff, Ware worked as a courtroom clerk and in law enforcement. After her first child, she no longer wanted to continue working as a call receiver or dispatcher due to graveyard hours, and recalled how “easy breezy” the bailiff position seemed to be. Her opportunity to inquire about the bailiff position occurred when she was summoned for jury duty and was selected as a juror on a case in Judge Enyeart’s court (now Justice Ireland, ret). Following the conclusion of the trial, Ware expressed her interest in a bailiff position to Judge Enyeart’s bailiff at the time and as luck would have it, she said she was leaving and would consider Ware for her replacement. Needless to say, Ware had no idea just how different the work of the bailiff was becoming.

“The former bailiff told me, ‘I really like you and think you would work well with the judge.’ She was awesome and worked with me during the summer to thoroughly grasp the duties and responsibilities.”

In her time as a bailiff, Ware has served on the court with three judges. She has worked with her current judge, Judge Andrea Darvas, for 10 years. The past few years, she has worked at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent.

“There is no way you could survive and do a good job if you are not willing to bite your tongue and humble yourself a lot!  Even if the bailiff is not having a great day, staying upbeat and positive is important to maintaining a pleasant court experience for parties appearing before the judge and particularly the jurors.”

The variety of cases and hearings is what keeps Ware engaged. “Every day there is something different or new, even if small. The job never gets dull or boring. You can be dealing with a medical malpractice case one day, followed by an intellectual property case, and then assigned a homicide trial,” Ware said. “That’s what makes it super-fascinating. There is always a new set of circumstances.”

For Ware, the best part of her job is working with the public and trying to anticipate and prevent a potentially disruptive situation. “I can’t recall when I have had to call for security–I hope I haven’t jinxed myself! For the most part, people just want to be respected, heard, and understood. I may be firm, but also try not to disrespect, belittle, or patronize anyone. After all these years I still enjoy what I do and love it when we get a trial with issues that could benefit me in my personal life,” Ware said.

One of the most moving moments, Ware said, was when there was a courtroom full of people during a sentencing. “The defendant was headed to prison for a long time. He was handcuffed, and the officers were about to take him back to the jail. His young son, no older than six, walked towards his dad and was standing right under the officer’s arm, next to the gun. You could hear a pin drop in the courtroom. Rather than pushing the child away, the officer stepped back and allowed the handcuffed father to lean over and talk to his son. That moment will be seared in my memory forever.”

Ware wants people to know that trials are open for anyone to come and watch, and are an important part of our democratic system. “When you have time, come and observe a real life trial. Just remember to enter and exit respectfully; no gum, no food, no drinks other than water, and no disruptive talking.”