Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Hamilton Burger Would Not Approve

I like to wait.


I like to wait when I am waiting for court to start.  Only then. 

Today, the Judge, DA, court reporter, bailiff, an interpreter and I cooled our heels for an hour while an over-zealous attorney made sure his client understood not only the plea bargain but the underlying statutes governing the decision, the constitutional supports behind it, the intentions of the original framers of same and the general dyspepsia of the whole Magna Carta assemblage.

The clerk from the tax assessor's office who was going to be acting as the defendant's in-court interpreter (the family functioned in this roll while the defendant met with his attorney) had never been in court before.  She sat silently in a chair at the front of the bar, more apprehensive than any of the defendants.  After about half an hour of free-gratis entertainment courtesy of the judicial floor show, the DA balanced her chair on it's back legs, hooked her high heels on the bottom of the counsel table and grinned at the clerk from over her shoulder.  She apologized for the delay and told the woman, "We really do work around here.  There's just nothing we can do until the defense attorney gets ready."

The clerk looked a little shell-shocked, but tried to smile and remained silent as we returned to a spirited discussion of the cultural significance of Dazed and Confused and Matthew McConnaughey's Oscar acceptance speech.

At long last, Mr. Holland and his Opus entered the courtroom prepared to face the seat of Justice.  We proceeded rather painfully slow through that hearing, as the attorney was apparently being paid by the word.  Despite the verbosity, the Judge remained sympathetic to the plight of the illegal alien he was about to send careening intro the open and welcoming arms of the Texas prison system.

He let the man testify, via the highly nervous translator, to all manner of merriment.  The defendant told the Court he was having health issues, then said something that caused the interpreter to do a double take.  The attorney caught the man's meaning and said dubiously, "He wants to show you his problem."

I knew this had to be good and I whirled in my chair to face the defendant full-on, not wanting to miss the show.  The DA, still balanced on the back two legs of her chair, rolled her eyes and stared up at the ceiling.  The Judge, comprehending what was about to happen, threw up his hands and said, "No!  Really!  I don't need to see!"

But, in the immortal words of Ray Stevens, it was too late.  He'd done been incensed.

The defendant whipped his shirt up over his head, revealing the most distended gut I've seen this side of a Sally Struthers commercial, complete with a deeply angry and inflamed colon surgery scar.

The Judge sent him to prison.  But not before promising to do what he could to expedite medical treatment for the defendant.  He obviously wasn't malingering.

That was just the first case.  The next case was a per-trial hearing for a defendant famous for bawling through all of his previous court appearances.  His attorney, Mr. Slightly-Sleazy addressed the court and explained that he and his client had talked on several occasions since the last hearing and the client no longer wished to fire the attorney. 

However, during their most recent talk, held in a witness room while the previous case was being heard, the defendant made his attorney privy to information which Mr. Slightly-Sleazy was going to be forced to investigate, requiring the attorney to request more time before the case was set for trial.

This information, most notably Code 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 - at this point all heads snapped up and questioning eyes turned towards the attorney - if verified, would significantly change the direction of their defense.  If Code 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 was not verified the attorney would be making some "other motions".

At this point I sat on the edge of my seat, thoroughly flummoxed, wondering what the hell was going on.

Simultaneously, the Judge leaned on his elbow, forehead  propped on his palm, and peered at the attorney around the side of his hand, one Vulcan-esque eyebrow disappearing into his hairline.  "Counselor, you have completely lost the Court.  What is Code 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9?"

"Well, it's something I'm going to have to investigate, Your Honor.  I need to talk to some phone comapnies to see if it's even possible.  And, depending on what I find out, I may have to file some 'other' motions."

The Judge stared at the attorney for a moment longer, no less confused than before.  At length he sighed, straightened in his chair and granted the continuance.    Once the attorney and the client left the courtroom, we looked at one another, looking for some sign that someone, anyone, knew what had just happened.

"What the hell is Code 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9?!" the Judge demanded.

The red-headed deputy with the Borg/Bluetooth device permanently attached to his earlobe, who was acting as bailiff for the day, got up from his post by the door and proceeded to explain.

"It's supposedly a code that, when punched into a cell phone, will put you in touch with the FBI agent who evidently gave the defendant permission to drive down the highway at over 100 miles an hour, waiving papers out the window while fleeing from police, as well as authorizing the use of all the meth the guy smoked, as a part of their 'ongoing investigation'."

"Ohhhhh," everyone said.  The Judge nodded jurisprudently.  "Well.  I guess now we know what the 'other' motion is going to be," he said.  "I'll go ahead and schedule this case for a competency hearing."

As the Judge reached for his calendar, the attorney and defendant for the third case came in and settled at the defense table.  The defendant made a good-natured show of greeting the players in his own personal courtroom drama.  He was the absolute epitome of the George Martin character from the first Police Academy movie.

There was a brief wait while paperwork was procured.  During the lull, the DA teased the young attorney about not wanting to take his case to trial. 

"I want to go to trial here," Mr. GQ said.  "But you never give me any cases that I could win!"

"Do you know why that is?" the DA asked with mock gravity, lowering her chair to all fours.  "It's because Barber County Grand Juries take their job seriously!"

The defendant looked up from contemplation of his shackled hands and feet and said in a plaintive voice "They sure do!"

It was one of those serendipitous moments of perfect timing and the courtroom erupted into laughter.  Once the congregation regained some semblance of decorum, the Judge called the case and proceeded with the hearing.  He followed the usual formula of questioning the defendant about his plea and whether or not it was free, voluntary and made for the sole reason that the defendant was guilty and for no other reason.  The DA and I sat quietly at our table, doodling on legal pads and listening to the soft schik, schik, schik of the court reporter's keys as she typed out the spoken words.  After questioning the defendant, the Court spoke to the attorney and began a standard litany, starting with "Do you have any reason to believe the defendant is not competent to stand trial?"

"No, Your Honor, I believe the defendant is competent."

Before the Court could ask the next question, the defendant snickered audibly and stage whispered "Show's what you know!"  His timing and delivery was scary good and the courtroom again dissolved into laughter.

Later in the hearing the defense attorney requested that the judge waive certain surcharges for the defendant, given his low income.  The Judge contemplated the defendant for a moment or two before turning to the court reporter. 

"We're going off the record."

She nodded and removed her hands from the keys.

The Judge leaned over the bench and looked down at the shackled defendant.  "I've never granted a request for waiving surcharges," he said.  "But I've also never had a defendant who made me laugh out loud during a hearing.  So, I'm going to grant your request." 

The defendant replied with a huge grin and the Judge directed the reporter to begin the record again.  He formally waived the surcharges and adjourned the hearing.  We were done for the day.

If we had court more often, I'd be thinner.  That kind of laughing is really good for your abs. 


Lori said...

I love this... felt like I was sitting right in there with you.... leaning back in my chair, flip flops hooked around the chair legs....

Princess of Everything (and then some) said...

I love this kind of Court!

LOL how many times have we not been quick enough for *I want to show you something*? I seem to move slower at that line and the client seems to move faster.

spookyrach said...

You would fit right in, Lori!

Thing DO slow down when you hear that phrase, Mindy! The Judge was totally slow mo trying to throw those hands up, saying "Nooooooo!" hahaha!

Cindy said...

Love your stories, co-worker kept asking why i was laughing! You put us right there in the court room.