Friday, July 22, 2011

Our Day In Court

For free entertainment, you could do worse than going to your district court on hearing day and watching the proceedings.

We weren't there for fun, although I was determined to enjoy the experience as much as one can. Obtaining an execution to evict a tenant who has not paid rent in four months isn't a pleasant experience, but at least it can be interesting.

This district court handles civil and criminal matters together on the same day. It wasn't what I was expecting, and it had me wondering if we were sitting in the right courtroom as docket after docket was called to the bench with "The Commonwealth Versus..." I kept leafing through our paperwork to satisfy myself that "Main Session Courtroom" had to mean this big one with the double doors in the center of the building, and that I had the date right. Our tenant wasn't there either, which added to my confusion. She turned up half an hour after the appointed time, which turned out to be early enough. The criminal matters ran on and on.

So here's a question: if you're summoned to court to appear before a judge because you're accused of shoplifting, say, or operating under the influence, or assaulting your sister ("We just don't get along..."), wouldn't you want to put something on besides flip-flops and baggy shorts and a ratty tee-shirt? Maybe, if you're on probation and one more offense means a mandatory 60 day stay in jail, you could cover the gang-letters tattooed down your forearms, or take off that baseball cap? I think the reason that cameras are forbidden in courthouses is so nobody ever has to see a picture of the doofus with the puffy sneakers, the sports jersey, and six inches of boxer shorts showing above his sagging swim-trunks.

"Good grief," I said to The Wife, "a third of the people in this room have neck tattoos."

She said, "That's how you know who the bad guys are."

Having never sat through criminal court proceedings before, it amazed me just how practiced and knowledgeable all the participants were. I'm not talking about the judges and the lawyers - of course they know what they're doing. But there wasn't one criminal defendant there who didn't know where to stand and what to say. Nobody seemed confused about their instructions to contact this probation department or that district attorney. Public defenders were appointed, phone numbers were exchanged, dates were set for further was like watching a dance and trying to figure out the moves. I realized that there really are two classes of people in this country: those who regularly participate in the criminal court system and those who don't.

Things sped up when the judge switched over to civil matters. It turned out all the civil cases were about deadbeat tenants and unpaid landlords. I was nervous when my name was called, but I didn't even have to open my mouth. The judge asked our tenant if she owed the rent and she said, "Well...yeah..." and he actually laughed and sent us to mediation.

Later, outside the courtroom, waiting for the mediator, we saw some tenants (not ours) who had just been complaining to the judge that they didn't have money to feed their kid, never mind move out and rent a new place. Out here, they were showing off new tattoos to their buddies. One on the shoulder, one on the back, one on the leg. Who did they go to and how much did it hurt? Talking shop, sharing the hobby of self mutilation.

I'm thinking, huh, maybe your kid could eat those tattoos, he's going so hungry.

The result for us? Well, it seems senseless to talk about "winning" or "losing" in this situation, but let's just say that we have reached an "agreement." And we've got a piece of paper to take to the Sheriff's office in case anyone thinks about changing their mind.

And we also got to watch a couple hours of our court system in action, which was more interesting than I expected.


  1. Good thing I only have tattoos on my arms and a finger.

  2. A finger? Ouch! What does that do to your wpm?

  3. Actually, I felt it less than any of my other tattoos. Having it makes me type faster because the keys think I'm a thug and they move out of the way.

  4. Seems the 'system' favours the ones in the wrong. We are a mixed up society in many ways. (Liked your positive spin on a harrowing situation.) Linda

  5. I am sorry but I could not help but laugh at the sarcasim about tatoos or tats as the young kids say. And yes, I laughed at the bad guy comment. I know from communicating with the wife of pipe and grumble to know that she meant that as a tongue in cheek remark. In all honesty it does seem to be true that these folks seem to be involved with the criminal system do have neck tats more often than the ( for lack of a better word) usual society. Again it is a few that bring that bad reputation to spoil it for the freedom of others. Having said that, I do not have a tatoo but have family members who have. Each to his own, and there are plenty of sane folks with neck tats as I think we all know.
    Fashion comes infads and as I hate to follow or be bothered to follow fads I probably will not get a tat as I would only change my mind and then be stuck with it or the cost to change it to only get bored with it again.
    As for our court system it is an education and well worth everyone taking at least one day to see how it works.

  6. You're right, Jeanne. A neck tattoo (or any tattoo) doesn't necessarily make for a bad person, and the comment was tongue-in-cheek. BUT. If you're going up in front of a judge who has the power to toss you into jail, don't you think you might do what you could to make yourself look a little more respectable? At least put on a collared shirt and cover up a part of it!

    It's the permanence of tattoos that bothers me. I'm unhappy looking at the same framed painting for more than a year. I can't imagine being stuck with the same piece of artwork for my entire life!

    Of course the neck tattoos and the courthouse visits all result from the same personality traits among these folks: poor decision making skills and an inability to plan for the future. It's why they'll probably be back in that courtroom (or in prison) again and again.

    The judge, by the way, was extremely patient with all these folks, bending over backward to make sure they got their due process and understood their situations. The only time I saw him get cross was when a defendant responded to his leniency with a barely audible, "uh huh."

    "I'm doing what I can to keep you out of the house of corrections," he said, "so the correct response to 'Do you understand?' is not 'uh-huh.' It's 'Yes, your honor.'"