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Column: Timing Is Everything

— If the hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m., Judge William D. Hamblen is enrobed and on the bench. Prosecutors, defense lawyers, the defendant, security and visitors are in their respective places. All quiet.

Hamblen is the retired chief judge of the 31st judicial district of the Commonwealth, Prince William County. He is well-respected and expects nothing but the best in courtroom manner, this includes the attire for brothers and sisters at the bar, defendants and anyone just watching.

It's advisable to be in the court, seated, at least a half-hour before starting time. Don't arrive a minute before the case is called. It's likely admittance will be refused.

Like many retired jurists, Hamblen is kept busy presiding over various and sundry cases. His judicial demeanor has long been an example to other legal eagles.

Once in his Prince William County courtroom, all were in place. Deputies appearing at attention, attorneys alert. A defendant was called.

In walked a young fellow attired from head to toe in the complete sporting regalia of a famous basketball player.

The judge didn't hesitate and sent him home accompanied by a deputy to redress and return. He did sans the uniform and hat.

On Monday, a two journalists arrived on the fourth floor of the Alexandria's Franklin Backus Courthouse Courtroom No. 4.

They first had to pass through the first-floor security — "take everything out of your pockets."

It's a special pre-trial hearing, the case of Commonwealth of Virginia versus Arlington Deputy Sheriff Craig Patterson who shot and killed a 22-year-old Alexandrian.

A pleasant white-shirted lieutenant stopped the reporters at the courtroom door, at 9:59: "I think you're too late. Judge says no one is allowed after 32 seats are filled."

The wordmen pleaded. The officer opened the door and another white-headed, white-shirted veteran lieutenant, "You're late. Why didn't you get here early?"

A bit unnerved, the printmen sort of dropped their guard and appeared seriously sullen. The lieutenant-in-charge relented moments later and directed them to two seats. Other reporters were intently listening and scribbling.

Once Judge Hamblen had the lawyers agreeing on a Dec. 9 jury trial, court was over. He left the bench. Defendant Patterson was removed from the courtroom and deputies began shooing everyone out the door.

"Now, don't forget you folks, be here 30 minutes ahead of time in December," the lieutenant-in-charge bellowed. "A minute late and you won't get inside."

Everybody scampered to the elevator. Almost unnoticed, the visiting judge walked to elevator number two and was on his way.

The public's right-to-know is safe. We'll be early in December.