I FOUGHT THE LAW AND THE LAW LOST

Thankfully, today case number C15-316675-01 was settled. No, not Michael Jackson’s trial, mine. On March 3, 2004, I received a ticket in the mail for “litter on premises.” Shocked, I asked my neighbors if they’d reported me or had any problems with the way I kept my yard. Negative. I requested a trial and today, 15 months later, I got it. I followed the printed directions and showed up early to Court # 3 at the courthouse on Main and settled into a crowded courtroom. At 8:30, they began roll call. My name wasn’t called. The bailiff said that my case had been dismissed, go see the clerk, and goodbye. The clerk said, “No, the computer printed your court number out wrong, you’re supposed to be in Court #2.” So, at 8:45 I report to said court. The main man, Judge Ortiz, glared at me as I entered and continued to admonish me for being tardy with fierce glances as he began his 45-minute ramble.

I’ll spare some of the gory details, but here is what you can expect if you find yourself in the same situation: Judge Ortiz was really on his high horse. Maybe he is everyday; I wouldn’t know since this is my first (public) appearance as a serial (cereal?) trash offender. My courtroom expertise is limited to what I have learned from Stephanie March and Angie Harmon who, with $500 haircuts and $1,000 eyeglasses, knock judges like these to their knees nightly on Law & Order. Sans the appropriate haircut and glasses, I followed their lead and arrived loaded with affidavits from neighbors, a letter from my landlord, and canceled checks from a lawn service company. Innocent until proven guilty, right? State must provide evidence, right? There were maybe 35 people in the courtroom and from what I gathered from Judge Ortiz’s speech, most of them were there for code violations. No big deal, eh? Well, the fine is a hefty $250. The smirk faded from my face as Judge Ortiz began detailing our “choices.” Yeah, we had a right to a jury of our peers but according to the judge, “they are not your friends.” He went on to say that we could request a “trial by judge” but if we did and then decided instead we preferred a jury we’d be screwed cuz, and I quote, “You cain’t be talking to no judge before you go to trial.” At that point I just wanted out. Then he starts laying odds for us in an effort to help us chose how to plead. “If you think your odds are 50/50, do not go to trial. When I was an attorney, they had to grab me by the tie to drag me to those trials. I mean, Michael Jordan’s career–I think it was Michael Jordan–no, maybe it was Kareem, anyway, one of those guys careers was decided on a coin toss.” (He broke of the sports analogy so I have no way of knowing where he was going with that, but let the record show that it was neither Jordan or Jabbar, technically it was Lew Alcinder.) Anyway, he seemed to be encouraging us to “accept a lesser fine” if the prosecuting attorney offered. But if we did, we’d better pay it because, according to Judge Ortiz, “This city just loves to come after you on Thanksgiving during the Cowboy game and take you away straight to jail with that turkey leg in your hand.” Near the end of his tirade, those of us who understood English started to feel like hardened criminals. I began to doubt myself. Maybe I should just stand up and scream, “I’m sorry, Judge, take me and my turkey legs.” But I remained calm; after all, one court had already dismissed my case. Just before recess he told us where to find the restrooms and soda machines before he launched into a Zagat-esque mini-review of nearby restaurants where we could grab a “continental-style buffet” at “blue collar prices.” Then, as if it was a minor point, he said, “Now, if I call your name, do not leave. Your case has been dismissed for ‘no fact witness’.” He called out 10 names. Mine was last. Breakfast was $10, plus tax. I call that white collar. But I’m not going back to trash talk the judge. Been there, done that.

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