Friday, June 18, 2010

You're Out of Order. . . !

click any image to enlarge

No content yesterday. Sorry -- I had a reason.

As many of you know, I've spent a good deal of my life in the courtroom, dating all the way back to my well-regarded set-to with Wm. Jennings B.

So yesterday, I accompanied the Li'l Woman to Traffic Court.

She'd been caught in a speed trap. A steep hill that forces acceleration, then drops from 50 to 35 at the top of the hill. With no warning.

A hill the traffic court judge described in open court as (Blank) County's Great Revenue Generator.

My lady friend was hoping to cut her punishment by appearing, but openly acknowledged to me her wrongdoing.

I listened to her brief explanation -- offered while dressing nicely for court -- and her intended plea -- she would fall back on a good driving record and describe the difficult spot. When I heard it, I thought "that's not bad. Just the right tone."

But once we reached the standing-room-only courtroom, I reconsidered.

Forty-three offenders were scheduled to be tried in one hour.

The first defendant was from -- lo and behold -- the same speed trap. He pled guilty, was asked his driving record, and got reduced punishment. Lower money, lower points, lowered speeds recorded on his PERManent RecOrd.

And on it went. Many "Guilty With Explanation" pleas. While this was new to me, the court's website described to them, so I wasn't surprised. Folks gave their excuses or reasons. Their explanations. Hope springs eternal.

The judge was cool, and engaged in light, friendly banter. He gave a civics lesson to the woman seeking some advisory light system to warn of the hill: (haven't you heard the Judiciary is the weakest branch? You'll have to write the mayor, the governor, and the state assembly!). He countered each "explanation: with a reasonable response about safety and the drivers' duties (don't you think your sick friend wanted you to reach the hospital without killing yourself or anyone else?). In sum, he wasn;t at all a dick. People with good driving records of many years were lauded for their achievement, slates wiped clean to keep their records intact.

I could see my girlfriend paying careful attention. I think I'll just plead guilty and truthfully answer "over five years" since the last infraction, she whispered.

Until the fortieth defendant concluded.

We were among the last folks of the first group, and a new group was gathering.

She was called, and I sensed a change.

So she piped up, upon the judge's request for her plea, Guilty, With Explanation!

Oh oh.

By the time it was done, their friendly debate about who had the ultimate duty to enforce speed (not give tickets, but enforce speed) --- the police, or the drivers who'd learned their lessons -- after their debate about the role of the judiciary, after their debate about lemmings, safety, tailgaters, and rhubarb pie, we departed.

Her sentence was drastically reduced. He thanked her for their exchange. She felt exhilarated, if not vindicated.

I was a wrung-out mess.

Most of my courtroom time isn't spent arguing -- it's spent assessing what the judge is concerned about, and how the judge is reacting to certain arguments and certain salient facts. All of my antennae suggested her plan to say nothing was. . . a good one.

As I bedded down Al Pacino that night, I knew that she'd stepped out of her comfort zone.

Heaven help us. . . .


Mythical Monkey said...

I haven't argued in court nearly as often as you, but my stomach still churns every time I think about it. It's like juggling nine oranges with a gun to your head. Exhilarating, but so many things to think about, and as you well know, I'm inclined to drive myself and everyone around me nuts as I chase down every possible angle ...

These days, I've transferred most of that energy into essays about Ernst Lubitsch ...

Mythical Monkey said...

I mean, you did want me stop by and tell you how this affected me, right?

Juvenile Buffoon said...

Know your judge. Know your judge. Know your judge.