by Bruce Hanify Seat yourself at a large wooden table, a dinged-up relic from the mid-1960s. Before you sits 60 to 80 files, which you learn to handle the way a short order cook handles burgers. Some of them have been hanging around since before your time and give off a distinct odor. Your court calendar has 60 to 70 defendants’ names on it. Most of the entries are pretrials that can be handled in a few seconds, but then come the motions that need be argued and, at the end of the calendar, maybe 3 to 4 bench trials. The cops sit in the back row, bored, frustrated, angry — counting their overtime, maybe, or hating you, if it’s their day off, or maybe just because they hate you. You are playing the keyboard of Justice; many in your audience hear only the sour notes. Catcalls and boos are expected.
Behind you sits a roomful of criminal defendants, their friends and family. The bulk of them want to see “the man” — uh, that would be you, poodle — eat it. Maybe the judge decides this is the right moment to play “whip the prosecutor.” On the slightest pretense, he finds something to nitpick — something entirely irrelevant, mind you. His nitpicking is consciously inaccurate, designed to diminish you and enlarge him. He gets appreciative titters from an audience that can’t vote. Oh ha ha! A laugh at the prosecutor’s expense.
Breaks the day up.
The System doesn’t have a brain, only a stomach. There’s a guy who told the truth about a hunting violation who got hit with the entire fine and suspended jail time for telling the truth, whereas the mother-son check schemers walk out the door because the subpoenaed bank witness doesn’t bother to show up, and the judge dismissed the case. I turn around to watch the kid check-writer mouth “f _ _ _ you” to me as he leaves. He and his mother will be laughing when they hit the curb. Have to remember to send that kid a valentine next spring.
You get through your 40 to 50 pretrials and probation violations. Now it’s on to the motions. The troopers, deputies and officers in the back row have been grumbling, and restless. Well, some of them. The lazier ones who don’t like to work, but like the overtime, are content. You might get a call from a sergeant later: “Goddamnit, I don’t want to pay overtime!”
Two suppressions went okay; the judge suppresses the third. I dismiss that case. On to the bench trials.
The monkey-man in the wife-beater grins through mottled teeth while he scratches his pits from the witness stand. He makes a weird monkey sound when he grins and has an odd habit of scratching at his pits, like .… you know. A monkey. He tells his side of the story through a perma-fried grin. Yeah, I saw the crippled woman beat the hell out of Joe. Sure, Joe is big and mean and lazy as a cut dog, but on this particular day he was all victim! Poor Joe didn’t stand a chance!
The crippled woman is convicted. Can’t have people her that on the street! People like monkey man deserve to feel safe, too, you know. The law is blind to clothes and body odor. And brains.
Well, and sometimes blind to truth, but that doesn’t matter.
I hug my files to my chest and leave the courtroom, four new convictions to forget.
Back to the bunker, with its surplus desk and tired, beige phone, cracked and smudged with black stains. Back to the other grunts who have the same dark humor I do. We crank out rounds of sarcasm and derision while closing out files and making notes before going home.
Come 5:30 I’ll go home to a dark house and watch Clint Eastwood movies. By the time I lay down, this day will no longer be.
But tomorrow? Promises more of the same.
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Bruce Hanify 2010 All Rights Reserved