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Court dress code

Judge bans partisan T-shirts from priest's trial.

Inside Philadelphia's Criminal Justice Center, they've become as ubiquitous as the sidewalk memorials of flowers and stuffed toys for people killed in shootings and auto accidents. They are T-shirts, usually emblazoned with the photo of a crime victim and slogans urging remembrance of or "justice for."

Now, apparently worried about the impact the T-shirts could have on criminal juries, some Philadelphia judges have begun banning them from the courtroom.

It happened during the current trial of accused Catholic priest Andrew McCormick. This time, however, it was supporters of the 57-year-old priest who got the warning. On Feb. 27, the first day of McCormick's trial for allegedly sexually assaulting a 10-year-old altar boy in 1997, several of McCormick's friends came to the 11th-floor courtroom wearing black T-shirts covered with white stylized letters reading "I stand with Father Andy."

As a court officer began warning spectators about turning off cell phones and not taking photographs he spotted the shirts: "I see T-shirts. Turn them inside out."

The order left several of McCormick's supporters grumbling that their free-speech rights were being violated. Common Pleas Court Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright later made it clear she wanted nothing that might influence jurors in any way. More than once during the trial, Bright sent the jury from the courtroom and warned spectators she would clear the courtroom if they did not stop grimacing and demonstrating other reactions to witnesses' testimony.

The jury of nine women and three men deliberated a total of 10 hours on Thursday and Friday without reaching a verdict. They return to work Monday and have asked the judge to reinstruct them on the criminal charges against McCormick: sexual assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, indecent assault, child endangerment and corruption of a minor.