Monday, July 11, 2011

JUSTICE SERVED, UNDER THE COVER OF DARKNESS

By Shane Cashion

On the evening of the Casey Anthony verdict, I too was in court representing a criminal defendant. And if you think justice wasn’t served in the Ninth Circuit Court of Florida, you wouldn’t believe what’s going on in our local municipal courts....AT NIGHT! A friend of mine’s dad recently got a ticket for allegedly speeding in a construction zone. He maintained that it was long after the workers had gone home and that there weren’t any signs posted. Who knows? At any rate, I appeared on his behalf to see if I could “make it go away.”

When I pulled up to the courthouse at just before seven in the evening, I was surprised to see at least a hundred people loitering in the parking lot. They looked like they were waiting to buy tickets to see Poison. And when I say courthouse, I’m using the term loosely. It was actually a defunct ladies fitness center in a low- slung strip mall.

Next to the court’s entrance was a collection of lawyers in khaki pants and blue blazers with gold buttons. They were dressed like choir boys - choir boys who smoked and cussed. When there was a break in their conversation I asked the only one smiling, a jolly character named Pete, what time court started: “Seven. Lawyers get to see the prosecutor first so it’s not too bad.”

At precisely seven o’clock, I walked through a cloud of smoke to find a banquet style room lined with rows of metal folding chairs. Pete pointed me to a mean looking lady who’d slipped into a culture coma sometime around 1986. “She has the files,” he said. As I followed him into the courtroom I noticed that he was clicking, like a Bushman.

“I need the file for Kevin Fox,” I said to the crabby woman.
After a long, uncomfortable pause she barked, “Virtual.”
“Virtual?” I asked, confused.
“Virtual.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“It means there’s no paper file. The prosecutor has it on his computer.”

How about that? Maybe I’d been too quick to judge this place! With no file in hand, I took a seat next to Pete. To either side of me sat a dozen or so lawyers, all in their standard issue blue blazers and khaki Dockers. One lawyer wore a short-sleeve Polo shirt and jeans. He also talked on his cell phone. It was clear that he enjoyed special privileges.

Behind the lawyers’ row, the crowd had grown to at least four hundred fidgeting Poison fans, desperately in need of nicotine and ready to argue with the cops, the prosecutor, the judge, any of ‘em, ALL OF ‘EM! Just as I was getting comfortable, Pete accidentally elbowed me. He was trying to dig out a rock that had wedged its way into a crack in the sole of his worn out shoe, hence the clicking. “Sorry,” he said, “And by the way, your handkerchief’s in the wrong pocket.” I looked down to see my fly open and the tail of my white dress shirt peaking through.

In the row behind me I overheard a nervous mother ask her teenage son if he saw his lawyer.
“No. He’s not here,” the kid answered. By the tone of his voice I could tell he’d never presented her with a “My Son’s on Honor Roll….” bumper sticker.
“Well do you know what he looks like?” she continued.
“Yeah.”
“Well, tell me?”
“Tall. Slicked back hair. Douche bag.”

I laughed, but none of the other lawyers sitting within hearing distance did. “Could be talking about any of us,” Pete mumbled to no one in particular, which again made me laugh.

By the time I’d made it a third of the way to the prosecutor’s table, the judge took the bench...in a denim oxford. No tie. No robe. The bailiff then asked the motley crew before him to rise while the judge read the rules of the court. Not once did the judge’s eyes leave the page. He was obviously afraid of these people and his predicament.

The first 183 cases were continued to next month so that the defendants could get lawyers - when they got paid, or got a job, or remembered the name of the lawyer they’d hired but who was now nowhere to be found, doubtlessly waiting for more money before doing something so reckless as entering his or her appearance on behalf of some revoked felon on the lam.

By 8:00 the novelty of Night Court had worn off. Lawyers and offenders alike were restless. Twice a bailiff had to scream: “NO TALKING!!!!!” Sensing that he was losing his audience, like a great entertainer, the judge called two huge families to the bench. Through salty language and ear-piercing inflections I was able to surmise that the two families had engaged in a full-fledged battle royale with at least a dozen combatants over accusations too numerous to recount in a single post. What’s more, the whole thing was caught on tape, and the judge was going to play it for us!!!!!!!!!!!!! Maybe night court wasn’t so bad after all.

I didn’t have a great view of the court’s old tube TV, but from what I could tell the video looked like it had been lifted right off the production set of the Jerry Springer show. Every minute or so the judge would pound his gavel and scream, “THIS IS ASENINE,” over and over again.

By 9:15 even the judge looked to be losing his steam. He abruptly announced to the crowd: “NO MORE PAPERS!! I DON’T WANT TO SEE ANY MORE PAPERS FOR THE REST OF THE NIGHT!!!!” I liked that he didn’t really consider what the defendants had to show him to be worthy of a word as heavy as EVIDENCE; it was just papers. Then to my greater surprise, he barked, “FROM THIS POINT FORWARD ALL TESTIMONY WILL BE IN NARRATIVE FORM. NO MORE EXAMINATIONS. THIS IS TAKING TOO LONG!!! NOW, YOU IN THE GREY TANK, GO!”

Just as I was beginning to form an opinion as to which family was the real instigator, it was my turn to see the prosecutor.

“Please, have a seat. What’s your client’s name?”
“Kevin XXXX,” I said.
With just a few keystrokes he had my friend’s dad’s entire record before him.
“Okay, what would you like to do with this one?” He asked.
Not sure how to respond, I said, “Well, I’d like to see if I could make it go away, because…”
“Because, because, because, because, because. Because of all of the wonderful things he does.” That’s what he sang, like he was the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz.

By the time I stopped laughing he had already amended the speeding ticket to excessive vehicle noise (on a Buick driven by an 83 year-old man), and handed me a pay slip reflecting nearly $500 in fines and court costs. What’s worse is that the bailiffs shooed me out of the courtroom before I could hear the judge’s ruling on the feuding families. My friends, these are not heady times for our judicial system.…

3 comments:

Mark W. Danielson said...

Are you sure this isn't a script from Harry Anderson's Night Court days? Hillareous.

Ben Small said...

I once watched a prominent lawyer in Indy slip the bailiff $5 to make a speeding ticket go away. And Indy used to have a system. Some lawyer challenged the ticket form the city was using as unconstitutional and won his case. But it would cost the city too much to change its ticket form, so all one had to do to beat a ticket was file a Motion to Dismiss, citing the case. Needless to say, we had those motions on mag-card.

I once did the shirt-out-the-zipper stunt at a meeting with the regional director of OSHA. She caught my eye and dropped hers, with a sly smile. I looked down and OMG! We went out for drinks that night.

Some day I'll relate my coney dog story. Absolutely hilarious.

This is definitely a LOL! Thanks, I needed that.

Shane Cashion said...

That's great stuff, Ben. I've heard of prominent lawyers paying off the assignment clerk but never five bucks for a speeding ticket. I'm gonna hold you to the coney dog story.

Mark, I loved that show and to be honest that's exactly what it's like. Only thing missing was Bull!