Rocking like a hurricane in the Hamilton Municipal Court arraignment hour.
|It was 12:45 when I got to the arraignment "hour" at the municipal court. "Hour." More a term of art than anything else-- they take everything alphabetically, each letter getting a good ten minutes of names rattled off, longer on Fridays, which it was. So there I sat, on the pews in front of a magistrate, two bailiffs, a reporter and some law student whose function I couldn't quite figure out but I'm sure looked great on his resume', and waited.
"Abercroft?" the magistrate announced.
I looked down at the file my hand was strangling. The label read "Owens," with an "O." There were at least a hundred others in the municipal courtroom; statistically, most of them had to have names starting with a letter above "O," especially considering the fucking Scottish, whose "Mc-whatevers" would probably keep me at a last-minute, one-hour cliffhanger before the "O's" got their shake.
Even still, I was happy-- more than happy-- to get out of the office. It's the whole "looking busy" thing that kept killing me; get in at 8:30 and if you're not typing answers or interrogatories, fucking Pat the brownnosing wonder barges into your office and demands you type up a letter of rep for him-- not off your computer, but with the pre-printed forms from 1980 using that clunking, overly-sensitive typewriter in the back library to fill in the blanks to make it just right, because fucking Pat the brownnosing wonder doesn't know how to type, and fears computers if he needs them to do anything other than find porno websites for him. So when one of the other lawyers upstairs asked if I could show up to pleading hour for him during his scheduling conflict, I ended up owing him a favor for letting me.
The post-it on the file read: "Chris-- drop off at room 121. Schedule pre-trial. Do NOT waive time." From the day before, I remembered Dan-- that's the lawyer's name, the one who gave me the job of sitting in for him at the hearing-- saying a bunch of stuff I scribbled down furiously, but I was pretty sure it all added up to showing up on time to the correct place and giving the right person the proper form. The law's like that-- which they don't tell you in school. Proper forms and waiting periods. So that's what I did: I waited.
"Ashcroft?" asked the Bailiff. "Not here."
"Forefeiture of bond in the amount of three thousand," replied the magistrate, stamping some sheets of paper and handing them to the official-looking law student sitting next to her. "Benjamin?"
I looked back at my file. "O" hadn't changed to a "B," so I groaned. The bailiff glared at me, so I tapered it off into a whimper and shut the hell up. The bailiff seemed pleased with himself, and wandered over to a couple two pews over who may or may not have text-messaged someone just then. The signs clearly said "TURN OFF ALL CELL PHONES AND PAGERS. DO NOT TALK. FAILURE TO COMPLY WILL RESULT IN EXPULSION FROM THE COURTROOM OR CONTEMPT." So they were busted.
A greasy-looking mullet afficianado wearing a "Here's the beef" (with a downward-pointed arrow) T-shirt shouted "Yas-m!" and walked toward the podium. Fucking Hamiltuckians.
"Driving on a suspended license. This carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail, and a $500 fine. How do you plead?"
The Hamiltuckian rubbed his knuckle against his temple, massaging his brain into action. "If I plead 'no-contest,' do I get to explain my side of the story?"
"If you plead 'no contest,' you admit the truth of the facts and I will find you guilty."
"But I think that licenses shouldn't be needed, cuz my friends know that I can drive good. I brought my dad as a witness," he said, pointing to yet another man with a mullet, this one with over-alls.
Idiot. This is an arraignment, not a trial. Of course, as smart as I think I am, I realized I might've done the same thing if I hadn't been 3 years in law school. Again, I groaned. Again, the bailiff glared. Fortunately, a cell phone went off, and that allowed the bailiff to go off on someone else.
At some point, I fell asleep. I woke up midway through the "N's," and sitting next to a fine gentleman with a wet, hacking, tuburculosis-esque cough. And then, before I knew it, that fine gentleman was tossed out of the courtroom when his cell phone went off. And then, before I knew it, "Owens" was called out.
Now was my time to shine as a lawyer. This is what having a license to practice law was all about, dammit.
"Here, your honor!" I shouted, giving myself props because none of the other arraignees addressed the magistrate as "Your honor;" rather, they kept referring to her as "Ma'am" or "lady" or, in at least two cases, "sir," which was kind of awkward.
The magistrate sized me up. "These are some serious charges and they require explanation. It says here you were pulled over for operating a vehicle while intoxicated, and when your car was searched, the police found approximately two kilograms of marijuana. What do you have to say for yourself?"
"Is that all you have to say...?"
Finding myself and channelling Perry Mason, I replied, "May it please the court: Your honor, I am NOT Mr. Owens. Rather, Mr. Owens has retained my firm to represent him in this matter. Here is his waiver of his right to be present during this arraignment; in additon, Mr. Owens has directed us to enter his plea of 'not guilty." And I must say, my eloquence surprised myself. And I could sense that a number of the people in the pews behind me, several of whom had mullets, were similarly impressed.
"So you're his lawyer?"
"Yes, your honor."
"And you've been waiting here all this time?"
"Patiently, your honor." An hour and a half, to be precise.
"Did you know that all you had to do was drop off that sheet to that desk over there," she said, pointing to the official-looking law student sitting at the table beside her, "and you could have been out of here without waiting for your client's name to be called?"
"Crap, your honor."
I handed the waiver to the bailiff and silently held myself in contempt as I stalked out of the courtroom and up to the second floor, to yet another line to wait in for a pretrial conference. It would've been nice to have had a head's up that I could do that. Then again, a vague part of my memory told me I did. I was just too busy taking notes on the directions to notice.
I walked upstairs and wished for the days when I was paid by the hour. Damn my crappy salary.