Remember the story of the evil spider dressed like a policeman, who trapped me in his web? https://amusingsbyshima.wordpress.com/2012/02/26/bad-cop/
Well thanks to California’s whack government system, nearly a whole year later, I finally got my day in court. Sort of.
I had what’s called an arraignment last week, which in layman’s terms means spending all afternoon in court to stand up in front of a judge for two minutes to say two words, to get to come back for another day in court. And pay a huge bail fee for the honor.
That’s the short story. Here’s the long one…
It was a chilly but sunny Wednesday afternoon when I left work early to drive out to the Metropolitan Courthouse, located on a menacing block of downtown LA. I hesitated to park in the courthouse garage out of sheer stubbornness and refusal to give them any of my hard earned eight dollars. So I circled the cop car-infested streets for a while until I found spot. I paid the meter and walked over (and said a little prayer that my car would still be there and not hoisted up on cinder blocks when I returned). On the way, I tripped over a huge chunk of pregnant sidewalk, scratched up my favorite brown boots, but was just thankful not have gone face first into the concrete. That would have been an ugly sight, and I realistically may have gotten mugged while laying there toothless and bleeding; and heaven help me if I missed my court date due to that. I’d have been pissed.
After managing to make it there in one piece, I faced a line that snaked around the building, just to get into the building. They were letting two people at a time through security, and it was slow going. I questioned whether I would make it in on time as we crept ahead. Mercifully, I did.
The sheriff who was manning the x-ray machine was friendly. Too friendly. He took it upon himself (or perhaps I looked a little lost, vulnerable, out of place, easy prey?) to inquire if I knew where I was going and how to get there. I actually didn’t, but pretty quickly figured it out and thanked him for his offer of assistance. I guess he didn’t believe me because even after stating which court room I was reporting to on which floor, he proceeded to give me his card, hand-write his number on the back (even though his work number was on the front), and encourage me to call him should I get lost. Shockingly, I did not manage to get lost walking twenty feet to the elevator, pressing my floor, getting off, seeing the clear sign for my court room, and finding it a few steps down the hall.
Next step – surprise, another long line! My court time was 1:30pm and when 1:30 rolled around, the doors did not open. 1:45, 1:50, voila – a guard made his way up the line to collect our tickets or ID’s. I dutifully handed him my ticket and once he got everyone’s, we were filed in. But not before we got a lecture about how cell phone use is prohibited. That meant if the phone made any noise whatsoever or if you were caught using any functions of the phone, your phone would be confiscated. This was actually the scariest part of court for me because I have a brand new iPhone 5 and I’d be damned if they took it away from me. I checked the volume settings, alarms, everything I could think of that could make a peep.
Once in the courtroom, which resembled a poor man’s People’s Court, we were seated and given several more (extraordinarily lengthy) speeches, both via intercom and by the deputies, in not one but two languages. (If you need to know how to say “cell phones prohibited” in Spanish, just let me know.) It was a veritable salad bowl of American immigrants. And some real characters too, from their style choices (woman with half a shaved head and face tattoo for instance) to the man too obese who to fit in a seat. One father tried and failed to take the place of his daughter who was out of town (bold move though, sir), and two people had brought attorneys with them. I wondered if I was in the right place – was this really just traffic court? Had I been permitted to use my phone, I might have thought about calling my new sheriff boyfriend for confirmation.
An hour and numerous multilingual speeches later, the judge finally, and with no grandeur whatsoever, entered and took his seat at the bench. My immediate thought was that he looked exactly like the judge from My Cousin Vinny, and when he opened his mouth to speak, I was convinced he’d have the same southern drawl. He didn’t, but he had a gentle, deep, soft voice. He greeted us kindly and explained a few basic things like how he was there only to hear one plea out of three choices, “Guilty,” “Not Guilty,” or “No Contest.” That’s what an arraignment is, and if you want to say more, you say “Not Guilty” and chat up a trial judge another day. Seemed simple enough to me.
By a stoke of good luck, I was one of the first twenty or so people to be called up. Believe it or not though, I wouldn’t have minded being further back because this is when the interesting stuff started to happen. An arraignment is a very public process, and everyone gets to hear the story of why everyone who goes before them is there. At least half the people whose stories I heard were there for misdemeanors for having skipped out on a prior court date. One guy with a lawyer was super sketchy and so was his lawyer. She was very abrasive and impatient with my sweet judge, and I instantly didn’t like the pair of ’em. His deal was that he was caught driving without a license or insurance or registration, and she was there to plead No Contest on his behalf and ask the judge to drop his fines because he was unemployed. The other guy with an attorney was just plain scary. He’d attempted earlier when the judge first walked in, to approach him and say something, but the deputies stopped him and the judge sent his lawyer from across the room over to talk to him. When it was his turn in front of the judge, he was jittery and he was a big guy, wearing a big camouflage army coat. His deal was similar – no license, no anything, and he’d been busted for crossing a double solid yellow line on a divided highway. His lawyer was attempting to ask for the case to the dropped due to unemployment, with the added sob story that he was a disabled vet. The judge patiently kept reminding him that he was unable to hear any motions (any reasons), but just needed to know his plea. After some back and forth between the judge and lawyer, it was revealed that the man couldn’t plead Not Guilty and come back for a trial because the very next day he was being sent to Georgia on a murder charge.
And on it went – not everyone’s story quite so colorful, and half the crowd required a language interpreter, which made things take twice as long. When it was my turn, this is what I said, “Hello your honor… Not guilty… Thank you, your honor.” Then I marched out to see the cashier as everyone had to, paid my ticket fine, $480, as bail to be held until I showed up for my trial date, which happens to be on Valentine’s Day. I’m hoping that means they’ll have a little heart and give me my money back.
P.S. Remember the guy who didn’t fit in a seat? Well he almost flattened me in the cashier line. I noticed he was unreasonably close, and I kept inching away from him, nearly crawling up the back of the person in front of me to escape. I even turned sideways at one point to increase the gap between us, but he quickly filled it. I’m pretty sure (but in denial) that his belly touched my arm a couple of times. When I got to the window, the cashier asked me was if I was ok, commenting that he thought the big guy was going to take me down a couple of times. Now that would have been a sight to see.