Boredom. That’s what our court system is based on. In a world where instant gratification is a necessity, courts, much like the DMV, still move at a snail’s pace. And why would they speed up? That’s how they make their money.
I don’t know if you remember, but I got in an accident involving a car. I wrote a column about it, mostly whining that it wasn’t my fault. Despite the car pulling out in front of me when I had the right of way, I got a ticket. Ah, justice.
My court date was this Wednesday. The ticket I received didn’t add any points to my license and was only 75 dollars. I’m sure a normal person would have accepted the nominal fine, closed out the case, and never gone to court. Because, let’s be honest, he or she has better things to do. Well, I don’t. So to court I went.
Arriving at the door of my assigned courtroom, the woman checking me in said, “You know, you could just pay the fine, which would be pleading guilty, and you don’t have to stay. You could go home right now.”
Let me reiterate, this is after I refused to settle the case online, got myself out of bed at seven in the morning, and biked to court in a nice T-shirt. After all that, I cave and accept the fine at the door? I don’t think so.
“There’s no way they could increase the fine if I try to fight it, right?” I asked instead of taking her suggestion to leave. “I don’t want to try and fight the fine to instead be given jail time for ‘improper crosswalk use.’”
“The only increase would be 25 dollars in court fees,” she said, trying to help the gentleman behind me in line. “Which could be avoided if you just pay the fine now.”
I did not put on clean underwear to pay a fine. My underwear was speak-to-a-judge clean. So I happily refused her offer and took a seat in the courtroom, then stood up for the judge, and then sat back down and read my book while everyone’s rights were explained to the group. I’m not a good listener, and it was a good book. Empire Falls by Richard Russo, I highly recommend.
Like I said earlier, court is shockingly boring. Even after I prepared myself for intense boredom, wow. But I patiently sat and read my book, waiting for my turn. But not everyone was as calm and collected as me.
From the start of the proceedings, people– impatient to get on with their day– immediately accepted plea bargains from the prosecutor so they could get out of the stuffy room. For simply showing up, they received slightly reduced fines and several less points towards their license. But I was comfortable, and ready to spend whatever time necessary to dissolve my case completely. What else would I do with my time? Something productive? Probably not.
Finally, after the room emptied out, the judge called me before him. He didn’t even offer a smirk after saying “Improper use of a crosswalk,” despite the juxtaposition between my minor case and the extreme speeding and distracted driving offenses preceding it. I suppose if you have a sense of humor, you don’t get into law, or if you had one to start, the profession quickly kills it.
“I can’t reduce the ticket since it’s a zero point ticket,” he said. “You can either plead guilty and pay the fine, or speak with the prosecutor.”
“I’ll speak with the prosecutor,” I said.
Letting out a quiet but exasperated sigh, he thought, I’m sure, “I went to law school, spent all that money, paid my dues as a lawyer, and put on this big, hot robe just to bicker with some poorly dressed, stinky kid who doesn’t even own a car? What am I doing with my life?”
At least, that’s what I imagined him thinking. Maybe he just had to poop.
“All right, well, take a seat,” he said, already thinking about his coffee break. “The prosecutor will be with you shortly.”
I hunkered back down dutifully. The character in my book just punched the antagonist in the face, so any opportunity to read was welcome. But soon, the prosecutor came in and asked me to follow him. A man in his early thirties, wearing a suit that looked as if it was purchased that morning, led me down a hallway as I clomped behind him in my clip-in bike shoes and smelly t-shirt. Oh, and short shorts–also a bit smelly.
In an intimate room, we sat down to discuss my case. I felt for the guy, since I’m sure he dealt with the dregs of society in these close quarters–the members of our civilization who refuse to follow basic hygiene standards. I mentally gave him my sympathy until I realized the odor coming off my body had infiltrated the room, and by association, his nostrils. It’s odd coming to terms with the fact that you’re the dregs of society.
“The officer wrote my ticket based on a law stipulating that there is a speed limit of eight miles per hour in a crosswalk,” I said. “Since he wasn’t present at the time of the crash and there isn’t evidence that I was speeding, aside from eye-witness accounts and my broken bike, I don’t think that you’re going to be able to prove this ticket beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The prosecutor looked taken aback. What I said wasn’t profound; rather, I looked–and smelled–like grunts and groans were the only noises I produced.
“Let me just read over the case,” he said.
As he read the testimonies out loud, I corrected several mistakes the officer made while taking down my statement. “I saw the car was stopped, so I didn’t slow down,” my testimony read. It sounded like I wanted to incriminate myself at the scene of the accident.
“I’d be willing to reduce this to a 25 dollar fine, plus court costs,” the prosecutor said after I repeated time and again the report was wrong.
“No,” I said. “I’m happy to take this to trial. I really don’t think you can prove this.”
He reread the case, as well as the law the officer cited.
“Can’t you just dismiss the case?” I pleaded. “This is going to be such a waste of your time, I don’t have anything better to do, but I’m sure you do.”
I told him what really worried me was the woman’s insurance looking into the case, not my bike, since I wrote a column and got it fixed for free.
“A column?” he asked.
“Yeah, I have a weekly column for a bike magazine,” I said.
“I want to read that before I do anything else,” he said. I know, it surprised me too.
I pulled it up on his phone–a sleek iPhone– with my dirty fingers for him to read.
“This is basically your argument,” he said, smiling while reading my column. “Is that an aluminum frame on your bike? That could explain why it broke.”
“Yeah, it is aluminum, and pretty beat up,” I said. Then looking for affirmation, “It’s funny, right?”
Ignoring me, he said, “I’m going to dismiss your case, so instead of a fine, get some better brakes.”
Walking out of the courthouse and back to my bike, I realized that in two hours, I avoided a 75 dollar fine. If a penny saved is a penny earned, for a brief period of time, I made more than 35 dollars an hour. That’s a living wage; I could afford a car with that.