On tee-ball opening day, our mini-van was ticketed. It was a fitting end to an awful day since the minivan was in a clearly marked legal parking spot. Rather than pay $50, I took a half-day off of work to fight it. It isn’t a smart financial decision, but I can’t stand the idea of getting screwed like that. It’s my second or third time fighting tickets in Atlanta. I know the drill. By 9:00 I was comfortably seated in prime bench space with a new Terry Pratchett book. And a pad of paper to record random Muttroxian observations.
We defendants were 90% black, 36 out of 40. Maybe a little higher if you include the ugly white teenager with the Kobe Bryant shirt who wanted to be. More on him later. All officers of the court were black. The sample size was small, but there seemed to be no correlation between race and status. There were just an awful lot of poor people. They were about to get a lot poorer.
Next to me was the upstanding white couple. A nice southern gentleman and his nice southern wife. They were reading a book called The Human Body: Accident or Design? Really? Are those the only choices? They annoyed me already.
First up were all the guilties and nolos that the judge wanted to get out of the way. They had a probation officer out in the hall, and if you couldn’t pay right there you were put on probation. Many folks couldn’t pay a $100 ticket. Most fines were in the $150-$300 range. I felt bad for some of these folks, that’s a big hit in their circumstances.
I wonder if judges for parking court feel like they’re failures? It must be mind-numbing to deal with the same idiots every day. You main duty is collecting revenue for the state. They probably don’t feel like failures, but they probably don’t feel that great about it either. On the other hand, criminal judges probably feel they could have done something better than hear the same dirtbag stories every day also. I hope they rotate judge assignments around every few years.
There was a huge variance in body types. To paraphrase Tolstoy, all healthy bodies look the same but every unhealthy body looks different. You can really see the lack of healthcare. One man told the judge he was on dial.. dial something.. You mean dialysis?.. I think so, does that help me piss?
“You want to take the defensive driving course? Why should I let you do that?”
“Why should I let you?”
“So I can get my license back?”
“It was your choice to lose it. I didn’t make you drive thirty miles over the speed limit. Why should I interfere with the consequences of your choice?”
Kobe was up. A 19-year old white kid. He looked like Eminem with glasses and acne. The full size Kobe Bryant shirt was a dress on him. He had the walk too, the stereotypical black urban rap walk. He was the only one the whole day with it. There were a lot of characters who were clearly a lot more badass than him who didn’t have the walk. I think health plays a role here also. You have to be physically fit to be able to walk like that constantly. It’s a way of displaying your male virility. If you’re sick or fat, you can’t pull it off.
Now we’re into the not guilty folks (which includes me). She calls it the trial phase, which is true, but intimidating.
“What are you driving now?”
“Good. Martaâ€™s Smarta.”
The oath doesn’t mention God. “Do you solemnly swear..” but it doesn’t say what you’re swearing by.
A clear miscarriage of justice. A guy is up there for serving liquor without a license. But he has never served liquor. He’s a weekend cook, never even been behind the bar. He was working his shift, when he heard a break-in two stores down. He calls the cops. They take a long time to show up, he starts going home. As he does six police show up and start asking him questions. They want to go in his place, but it’s after hours and locked and since he’s just the cook he doesn’t have the keys. They make him go around back with them. They go in and see liquor being served. They start asking for permits and the owner doesn’t have any. They throw the book at the owner, but that’s not who is in court today. The poor schlub who called the cops is up there. All of this is perfectly clear. He is found guilty and fined almost $1000. A collective moan of sympathy and outrage rises from the audience. It doesn’t help.
It’s awful hard being up there. The judge asks you if you want to ask the police officer any questions, and it’s always unclear what to do. You don’t know the rules, you don’t know how to ask the right questions. Most people have more of a statement. They want to discuss it with the judge and you don’t know when you’re supposed to do that. Most people don’t know the right questions to ask. The cook might have asked the policeman, “Did you personally observe me serving liquor?” That might have been enough.
So far no one has been let off the hook. The not guilties are zero for six. Did I get the hanging judge?
There’s graffiti and names etched into every square inch of the benches. What kind of jackass vandalizes while they are actually in court?
My southern neighbors are up. It seems that there was a bus parked illegally at the entrance to the highway. Another driver was trying to get around the bus and merged badly, hitting them. They are witnesses for the state, the hitter is the defendant. The general consensus is that the bus was at fault, but the defendant clearly did cause the accident. After the first statement, the policeman asks the hittees if their insurance has settled everything. Yes, it has. Judge, in light of that, since there was no harm done, since the bus fled the scene, since the insurance has settled all financial matters, I would be content with reducing all the charges to a warning. The judge asks the defendant if that’s OK with him. Of course it is! I’m feeling good as someone is finally getting off light. Is it OK with everyone else? No! My fine creationist neighbor speaks up. It’s not OK. The judge can’t understand the problem. What does he care anymore, he’s been made right? He asks to approach the bench. That cracked me up. What could he have to say that can’t be said in front of everybody? I’m guessing he’s a racist pig and here he is, stuck having to come up with some BS to a black judge. What a vindictive jerk. May I approach the bench indeed. The defendant is let off with a warning. They are really strange people. (They also forget their book, but I bring it out to them.)
Now Single Female Lawyer is up. She has worked out a plea-bargain arrangement with the police. It’s a good one, her client basically gets off with a small fine. But wait, the judge won’t accept it! I didn’t know she could do that! She says it’s not right, why shouldn’t this guy get community service at least? Well, because he’s been unemployed he’s starting a new job as a trucker on Monday that requires a clean license it’s all been worked already etc. The judge says he can do community service on weekends. He says that’s hard for him, he has two young boys to take care of. “Then you’ll be a good role model for them, won’t you? Help keep DeKalb county clean! Twenty hours community service!” Who’s going to watch the kids? Why is she sticking her big nose in anyhow? what’s the point of working out a plea if the judge comes and throws the whole deal out?
I am the very last case of the morning. The policeman didn’t show up, so all my charges are thrown out. I jauntily wish everyone a good day. For the first time the judge cracks a smile, for the freakshow is over.