August 22nd, 2011

My day in court...

~Monday~ I was up at 7:00, and in a rare occurrence, I caught the 7:45 city bus, and in a further rare occurrence, I took the bus all the way downtown.

As luck would have it, Hot Mess Driver was at the helm today, but to her credit the air was on and the temperature was comfortable. This is also the same driver who has the rules about not pulling the stop cord too soon or too late, using criteria that only she really understands.

I told her I was going to Fayetteville Street and asked her if I should just stay on all the way to the terminus at Moore Square, or if I should get off at an earlier stop.

"Fayetteville Street?" she asked like she'd never heard of it.

"Yes, the Fayetteville Street Mall?" I said trying to provide a little more information about the pedestrian mall as its called.

Again, she looked at me as if she thought I thought there was a giant shopping mall like Crabtree Valley downtown.

"I'm going to the courthouse," I said loud enough for everyone on the bus to think, "Oh, homeboy must have a DUI; why he's on the bus."

"Oh, you should get off at the last stop before the bus station then," which of course reminded me that I have had this very conversation with her before, back when Xolani was staying with me in 2010. And I would know which stop was the last one before the bus station, how?

"Could you let me know when that stop is, please?" I asked.

When we got to the Hillsborough Street and Enterprise Street intersection (at the Bell Tower and the corner where Sadlack's is), which is where the bus turns left onto Enterprise, she pulled off to the right side of the street and said, "Y'all? I'm way ahead of schedule so I'm just gonna stop right here for a few minutes. Okay?" As if we could have said no.

Okay, a couple of things about this:

  1. There are what are called "sync" stops all along the bus route, where if the driver gets to them earlier than the scheduled time for that stop, they're supposed to stop there and wait until the scheduled departure time for that stop, which keeps them on schedule, and keeps the exact predicament this driver was now in from happening to begin with.

  2. You're getting ready to turn left, and you've pulled off to the right side of the road, when there's a stop right after you turn left anyway. Why not make the left turn and stop at the stop to wait?

Not surprisingly, inanity ensued. While she was sitting there—not at a stop, but next to one—a man who was at the stop (who of course has no idea what's going on) walked across to where we were. She opened the door, and when he boarded she said, "This ain't a bus stop right here. You need to get on over there," she said indicating whence the man came.

He said, "Well I was waiting over there, but the bus was stopped here."

She looked at him like he was from Planet Dense and said incredulously, "Well, I ain't got there yet!" which she followed with, "You can stay now since you're already on, but next time, you need to pick it up over there."

Next, a couple who was on the bus, asked where they could connect to a bus that was going to the Raleigh-Durham Transportation Center, and she told them to get off right where we were and to walk across the street to catch one of the TTA buses going in the other direction.

I'm not quite sure why she didn't tell them to get off at that stop across the street when she got there, which would have put them on the right side of the street instead of having to cross the intersection with a baby in tow in a stroller, not to mention that that would have been more consistent with the admonishment she'd just given the guy for getting on the bus when it wasn't at a stop.

With the door open waiting for that family to get it together to get off the bus (the collapsible stroller kept popping open and catching on the seats), someone walked up to the bus door and said to her, "You got a map for the bus?

Again, she gave the, "Are you from Planet Denser?" look and said with somewhat of an annoyed tone, "For which bus?"

"Does one go to Garner?" he asked.

Lots of stuff going on at a stop that wasn't even one.

I got to the courthouse with about a half hour to spare, so I dropped into the Port City Java nearby, where I thought of my friend Traci Barger, who works there as one of her jobs, but wasn't there this morning. I had coffee and a bagel, and I headed over to the courthouse at about 8:50.

After going through security, I made my way to the second floor, and found the case for which I was to be a witness on the schedule on the wall, which directed me to courtroom 2C, on whose door this was taped:

Text in picture follows

This is what it says:

Please make sure that the following are done before entering the courtroom:

  • Cell phones off

  • Shirt tails tucked in

  • Pants pulled up

There were two guys outside the door frantically tucking in their shirts. Personally, I was admiring, and appreciating, the parallel construction of the bullets points of the appropriately unordered list.

Court was supposed to start at 9:00, but at 9:05 it still hadn't started and a hunky cop in front said, "We're going to get started soon, and we're expecting about 90 people in here, so if you would, everyone slide all the way to the right, so when people come in late from that door, they can fill in from the left side."

I was sitting in what was like a pew, all the way in the back against the wall, and there was only one guy sitting on it, all the way at the other end. I didn't move and the cop called me out, "Sir, in the back, would you please move all the way to your right?"

I slid down next to the hottie at the end of the pew.

At about 9:15, there was still no sign of a judge, but the DA stood up and said, "Ladies and gentleman, we're going to start with the Call of the Calendar, so please listen to the options. When you hear your name called, or the name of the person for whose case you are here, please answer with one of the following":

  • If you have a lawyer, you can either just respond "Lawyer" or you can say the lawyer's name.

  • Otherwise, if you don't have a lawyer, you can say:

    • "Guilty" if you're going to plead guilty.

    • "Not guilty," if you're going to plead that.

    • "Continue," if you're going to ask for a continuence.

    • "Motion," if you're going to file some kind of motion.

    • And then, I think he said, "Open," but I'm not positive that that's what it was, and if it was, I don't know what it means.

  • If you're here for someone else's case, when you hear that person's name, you can say either:

    • "Victim"

    • "Witness"

I immediately went into a frenzy trying to decide if I was a witness or a victim. I was there to make a statement for the prosecution about the girl who rear-ended me back in February.

On the one hand, I felt like I was a "victim" in the sense that she caused the accident.

On the other hand, though, I was there to testify that I saw her get out from behind the wheel, as both of us were already out of our cars when the cop arrived, so in that sense it felt like I was a witness.

In the end, when they called her name, I said, "Witness," deciding that had I been suing her or something, I'd be the victim, but in this case I'm functioning as a witness. Besides being a witness for the prosecution was just too good to pass up. Said movie with Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich having come out in 1957, the year of my birth. But I digress...

When the judge finally entered the courtroom, I looked to see what time things were finally getting started, but there was no clock in sight, which annoyed me, especially since we were told to turn off our phones, which was my only source of the time. Then I remembered reading, "If your phone rings in the courtroom, it will be seized," and I thought, "Okay, I'll turn it on, but just keep the ringer on 'silent.'"

For some reason, I was pleased to see a female judge enter, and as we all stood, that hunky cop up there started doing some "Hear ye! Hear ye!" sort of speaking-in-tongues type chant ending with some plea about saving the great state of North Carolina so help some deity.

The first guy that was called before the judge was charged with driving without a license. "Sir, I can see from the records here that you have never been advised by an attorney, and I need you to understand that the charge you are facing could result in jail time, so you have the right to legal counsel first. Would you like to do that, sir?"

He indicated he did, and she said, "And would you like to hire your own attorney, or did you want to see if you qualify for a court-appointed attorney?"

He indicated the latter, and she said, "Okay sir, I need you to step aside to the clerk here and fill out an affidavit to that effect."

The next guy called up also didn't have an attorney, and hadn't spoken to one, and she went through the same spiel for his charges of a DUI and driving the wrong way.

Then there was about a 15-minute lull in the action, while it looked like things were happening, but nobody was letting "the customers" know what that might have been. Judge rifling through pages, court reporter typing away, and the DA logged into his laptop. It was at this point that I first realized just how cold it was in there.

Text in picture follows

That's a young boy covering up his ears before they break off.

The next guy called to the bench was evidently a prisoner, as he was brought in hand-cuffed and with an orange and white striped outfit on, and escorted by the hunky cop. Obviously no fashion consult with the orange socks and sandals on.

The judge said, "Sir, I have a number of charges against you here, including carrying a concealed weapon. I can waive your rights on one of them, but on the other three you have a right to have an attorney present. Would you like to have a lawyer appointed for you?" I guess it was obvious that he already qualified for a court-appointed one, because she didn't even bother asking him if he wanted to hire his own attorney instead.

Court was well into session now, but the person who hit me wasn't anywhere to be seen, nor did she (or an attorney representing her), respond when her name was called and I said, "Witness."

At another lull, the DA, who was a nice-looking guy, said to the courtroom, "The witness in the Giannini case?"

I raised my hand and he asked me to follow him to a little room, where he thanked me for being there, apologized about how long I'd been there, and apologized about the defendant and their lawyer not being there yet.

He asked me what I remembered about that night, and I could tell that it would be really helpful if I had smelled alcohol on her breath or if I'd seen her stumble at all while she was walking, but the unfortunate fact was that I hadn't.

After hearing my recounting, he told me that, unfortunately, there was nothing else he could do until they arrived and he found out if they were going to plead guilty, ask for a trial, or whatever. They had until 1:00 to show up.

I took my seat in the back in the pew again, and just waited. I was able to do a little work on my phone, although I was very surprised I wasn't told to turn it off, not to mention that little picture I took earlier.

At about 11:05, someone pushed a stroller into the courtroom, and just left it against the wall. I couldn't see if there was actually a baby in it, but I hoped not. And then I thought, "Is that safe?" It seemed rather like leaving an unattended package at the airport.

When 11:30 rolled around, there were about 7 people left in the courtroom besides me. The DA said to the room, "Is everyone here waiting on their lawyer?"

I think this process needs to be thought out a little better. Really? Everyone just puts their life on hold (including the judge, the DA, the hunky cop, and the court reporter) just "hoping" lawyers will show up? How 'bout we say, "If you're not here with, or on behalf of, your client by 11:30, you'll be rescheduled."

One young kid's lawyer came in and got him, and said, "Your case has been dismissed. Let's go."

"Thank you so much," he said, seeming truly grateful that he was getting a second chance at something.

Finally, at about 12:30, the DA returned after stepping out of the courtroom and said, "I saw Ms. Giannini's lawyer, and he said we could just take a statement from you. That way, if they do end up going to trail, we won't have to bother you again."

He let me type out a statement on his Dell laptop, he printed it, I signed it, and I was finally free to go.

Before I left, I said to him, "I guess I just don't understand. She hit me from behind. She failed the sobriety tests. She blow 2.5 times over the legal limit for driving under the influence," and there's still a possibility that she has some defense that would get her out of this?"

He just shook his head, and said wearily, "You just don't know. We have to jump through so many hoops."

"Well, I'm sorry I couldn't be more helpful," I said starting to go.

"No, really. You've been a tremendous help with what you've given us, and I really appreciate your coming today and the time you spent here."

Instead of saying what I was thinking, "Kiss me, you fool!" I said departing, "Well, good luck to you, my friend. And thank you for your work."

I left there feeling so ambivalent about our criminal justice system. I was glad to help in some small way, but it sure seems like it's an uphill battle for "good."

I walked from the courthouse to the Char-Grill on Hillsborough Street, where I knew there was a bus stop to take me back up to work.

While I waited for the bus, I ordered lunch: a Steak Jr. with fries, and an apple pie, and I ate the fries while I waited for the #4 Rex Hospital city bus to arrive.

Back at my office, I ate the burger and the apple pie. That's the first time I've had an apple pie from there. I like Burger King's better, although it's been years and years since I've had one of theirs.

After work, I hopped on a university bus down to the Bell Tower, from where I walked to the Cameron Village library to turn in The Hunger Games, which was due today.

I caught the #12 Method city bus outbound to home, and stayed in this evening.