July 8, 2008

Scenes From The Courthouse

You get a lot of "special" people who show up at the courthouse.

Take this guy. He needed a place to park. The guy who could have parked in the spot next to him did not have that need. Never mind that the parking lot fills up to overflow capacity every day, and today I had to drive across the street, in the desert, to park my car to make it to my hearing on time. That doesn't matter. This guy is special. His doors swing really wide, you know. So he needs two parking spaces, and that means he deserves two parking spaces. Congratulations, you're special, holder of California license plate number 5LUJ579!

As Mr. 5LUJ579 demonstrates, special people are entitled to special treatment and the rules don't apply to them. Never mind that the court is all about the rules applying to everyone. These people are "special" because they have needs that apparently no one else does and which apparently justify all sorts of wrongful conduct.

They need a place to live, and so their need apparently excuses them from the obligation to pay their rent. That's not to say I'm unsympathetic to people who are down and out on their luck; I've been there myself. But at a certain point, a landlord has to pull the plug and can no longer afford to support someone else's problem. The appropriate response to that is resignation, not resentment.

They need money. So it's okay to shake down people for all manner of imagined wrongs and slights. I was sued in small claims court recently for "embezzlement" by someone I evicted over a year ago. She could not defend the lawsuit because she was in prison at the time. She, um, hadn't paid the rent, what with being in prison and all. So now, having been released and found her apartment re-rented to another person and her stuff gone, of course she sues the lawyer who handled the eviction for -- embezzlement. I won, but I had to take good time out of my day to go and defend myself, which is a cost to my firm.

Now, they're not "special" as in they are wonderful snowflakes, beautiful to behold, unique in their creation, and whose existence is delightful to contemplate. Indeed, in terms of physical beauty an attractive specimen is relatively rare, at least in the courthouse. Well-groomed is about all you can hope for.

Courthouse "customers" are only like snowflakes in their tedious awfulness when placed together in great numbers and close proximity to one another -- at that point, snowflakes become accumulated snow, which is both a great inconvenience and often a hazard.

Which is why I don't mind the weapons screen all that much -- even though every day there seems to be someone in line right ahead of me who has never been through a metal detector in their lives before, who doesn't realize that she is supposed to put her purse and other possessions in a plastic caddy to go through the x-ray machine, and when she does she doesn't realize that if she doesn't put the caddy on the conveyor belt it's never going through the screener, and who needs five trips through the metal detector to remove her earrings, then her belt, then her audaciously gaudy bling-bling rings, and then her shoes and finally who needs to wait while the security guard methodically examines every key and cigarette in her purse while my briefcase (preloaded with every metal object on my person) languishes in the bowels of the x-ray machine and I am rendered late for an appearance. That's what I mean by "special."

Nor are the courthouse's "customers" "special" in the euphemistic sense of possessing developmental impediments, although in that sense one might be getting closer. Consider the guys who I overheard in the hallway comparing notes on how frequently one could smoke pot before a court-ordered drug test and complaining that they weren't really carrying to sell, it was to pass out at a party. (In case you didn't know, that sort of thing is "sale," as the term is legally defined.)

Overhearing this conversation, I briefly wondered why they're getting tested for marijuana use at all since the stuff is for all intents and purposes legal in California. It must mean that these guys weren't smart enough to figure out how to get the medical scrip that would give them a pass, which means they're really not very smart at all, which in turn may well be related to the frequent pot use. That's special, too.

The regular staff who works at the courthouse are really good people. They must have patience longer than the Colorado River. The judges and most of the attorneys I work with are generally pleasant, smart, and reasonable. And like them, most days, I can handle all of the "specialness" to be found in this most special of all places to work.

But working in a court, can be kind of like working with the public in a retail setting. Only you've put a filter on the kind of people who show up -- you're filtering for the sorts of people who have (in 1 courtroom out of 22) violated traffic laws; (3/22) serious marital difficulties and custody disputes; and (1/22) don't pay their rent. You're also filtering for people who have managed to get disinterested law enforcement authorities to accuse them of and prosecute them for things like (2/22) domestic violence requiring both criminal prosecution and civil restraining orders, (3/22) petty theft, vandalism, or other low-level crimes of idiocy; (3/22) drug crimes; or (4/22) violent felonies like murder, ADW, and rape.

Special people, in other words.

You may notice that this is only eighteen courtrooms. That's because 4 of the 22 courtrooms in the local courthouse are vacant, owing to the fact that the county doesn't have enough money to build them out or staff them with judges, clerks, court reporters, and bailiffs. There are apparently too many strains on the budget subsidizing the rents of people who have no business renting 4,000-square foot McMansions with no jobs, and paying AFDC to "foster parents" who think that adopting more children is the best way available to generate a personal stream of income.

I've a friend who works in the dependency court -- that's where you go when the county wants to take your children away from you. That's got to be the most "special" category of judicial service consumer of all. I can't even imagine how she can do it, day in and day out. Because today, even the regular court was just a little too special for me.

1 comment:

zzi said...

Where is a bar of Ivory when you need one.