You may remember that delightful fellow who tested his airbags by demolishing my wife's parked car while were sleeping. Well, after two months we were called into court to testify about the damage. After around 5 hours as we exited the courthouse, our jaws were dragging on the floor in awe of the epic sideshow that is the Philadelphia court system. I learned some very enlightening things about how justice is disbursed in the City of Brotherly Love, and I would like to present them to you in no particular order...mainly due to the fact that there certainly wasn't any in court that day (zing!)
- The crier is allowed to treat everyone, including the judge, like an absolute prick. I'm fairly certain that my wife and I were the only two people that the court crier (a.k.a. the guy who announces the next case) didn't grumble to, shout over, or yell at. And that includes the judge. This guy was absolutely stunning in his utter lack of professionalism. And I say this as a man who has more than once knowingly gone to work with a noticeable hole in the crotch of his pants. Now, I get that with 50 plus cases to juggle each day, even the most even-keeled person would get frazzled from time to time. But if you're to the point where every word out of your mouth is dripping with contempt for your fellow man, perhaps it's time for an extended vacation.
- It's perfectly reasonable for a judge to throw a temper tantrum in the middle of a case. First of all, it needs to be said that our judge could have easily played Bilbo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He looked to barely be able to see over the bench in a standing position and he's definitely indulged in a "second breakfast" or an "elevensies" in his lifetime. The similarities are purely physical, however, because if my memory serves me correctly Bilbo Baggins wasn't a raging asshole. At one point, after we had been out in the hall reviewing some paperwork, my wife and I returned to the courtroom to find the judge literally out of his chair yelling at an assistant DA. In all fairness, I don't know what happened that lead to this exchange. But unless the assistant DA just admitted to coercing a confession from the defendant by showing him pictures of the judge's naked wife, then I think a little restraint is in order.
- The judge is allowed to jerk around an expert witness as he sees fit. Part two of Judge Bilbo's screaming fit came when the assistant DA called up an expert witness as part of her case. At this point the judge was still seething and he only seemed to become further enraged that the assistant DA would call an expert witness. So within a few seconds of taking the bench, the judge threw up his hands and told the witness that he didn't want to allow him to testify. So the witness left the stand and sat back down in his original seat. The witness' ass had barely touched the seat when the judge changed his mind again and told him to take the stand. I'm sure the narcotics officer being used as an expert witness that day had nothing better to do than play musical chairs with an elected official.
- Lawyers have no problem using pop culture references as "precedence." I want you to picture every shady-looking TV lawyer you've ever seen. Then combine them into one bubbling mass of shyster. Then you'll have a picture of the lawyer I saw doing his thing. Basically, I think his style can be summed up by the fact that he utilized the following logic: his client was not intending to sell the drugs that he had on him because, after all, Charlie Sheen had claimed to do more drugs in one sitting than his client had on him when he was pulled over. I'm not kidding. I'm still not sure if this was the best or worst line of reasoning I've ever heard.
- Public defenders are even more tired and beaten-down looking than you might think. While a minority of the defendants had their own representation, I'd say at least 3/4 of the cases were being defended by one guy who looked like he slept in the suit he was wearing. I felt so bad for this guy. I don't care if this is the life he chose. No man should be forced to go through his day looking that down-trodden. Actually, if anyone remembers Ted from Scrubs, just add a head of a hair and make him a few years younger and you'll have this public defender.
So my day in court was a lot of things, but boring was definitely not one of them. I think I learned a lot about the law even in the short amount of time that I saw it in action. If I had to pick the most important thing I've learned from the day I'd say it's this: if you are going to break the law and you want it to be resolved quickly, make sure you break the law outside of southeastern Pennsylvania.