Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Traffic Court

I'm innocent! Innocent, I tell you.

Honest. I am. In order for me to have been doing the 47 in the 30 MPH zone the cop said I was doing that night in June when he pulled me over I'd have had to have blown through the red light and taken the turn on two wheels.

The other afternoon I was up in traffic court, pleading not guilty and applying for a court date. This amounted to signing a form I could have signed at home and sent in by mail if I'd read the fine print. But to do it I still had to stand in the long line of other innocent people and pass through the metal detector, glad that unlike the woman ahead of me I had read the poster-sized sign on the front door when I'd driven up to the court house: No Cell Phones Allowed in This Building.

Woman ahead of me had her cell phone with her and was told to take it back out to her car. Man behind me had a paint can and a cereal box. He was allowed to bring both of those in the court room after the bailiff looked them over and asked him, with more genuine curiosity than what kind of weirdo are you exasperation, but still with plenty of the latter, "Why would anybody be bringing an empty paint can into traffic court with them?"

The man, who was around 30, broad and bluff-faced with a receding hairline and round rimless glasses, explained he had been out collecting for a Save the Wetlands cause. His paint can and cereal box were decorated with construction paper pictures of ferns and birds. The paint can was for the donations. The cereal box contained flyers and envelopes and other paperwork. "What's this," asked the bailiff as he went through it, "Your filing cabinet?"

Because I didn't have an actual court date, the bailiff asked me to step over to the side to wait for instructions with another guy who hadn't read the fine print on his ticket either. The other guy had a good excuse. He didn't read or speak any English. He was about 25, thin, deeply sunbrowned, Hispanic, spattered in paint from his shoes up to his cap. The bailiff, a gray haired man in his sixties with a drooping mustache, dealt with the house painter first, and the first thing he did with him was take his cap by the bill and pull it off his head and hand it to him with a look that said in any language, "You're a grown man, you should know better than to come into court dressed like this."

The painter nodded apologetically and did not give the bailiff a look that said, If the town didn't hold court during hours when I have to leave work to get here in time I wouldn't be dressed like this.

The bailiff didn't give me any particular looks at all, not even the Are you that dumb you can't read the fine print look I was expecting. He had me sign the form, warned me not to sign the part where I'd be requesting a deposition from the arresting officer, and sent me on my way, explaining that it would be next month before I'd have to appear, the exact date would come in the mail.

I took one quick last look around the court room. My hope coming in had been that the cop who'd pulled me over wouldn't show. I'm not sure he did. There were eight cops in the court room, with four different uniforms represented---town cop, state trooper, campus police, and sheriff's department. My cop had been a campus cop---I guess their jurisdiction extends into the town roads that pass by the college---but the one in the court room looked a lot shorter than the cop who leaned in my window that night, politely demanding my license and registration.

All the cops were in a jolly mood, laughing and talking together by the empty judge's bench. Traffic court's a regular office party for them. Probably shouldn't count on my cop not showing on my actual court date.

On my way out I met the woman who'd had to return her cell phone to her car huffing and puffing her way up the steep front steps to the court house. She was a stout woman, a retired schoolteacher, it turned out.

"That wasn't nice," she said to me, taking a break on her way up the steps. "That wasn't nice, making me go all the way back to my car. He could have held onto it for me."

"Probably he'd have a dozen cell phones to keep track of if he did," I said, I hope with sympathy.

"What's with that anyway? Why don't they just ask us to shut them off?" But she knew the answer to that one. "Terrorists, right? They're worried I'll use mine to set off a bomb. Do I look like a terrorist? I'm a former schoolteacher! I look like a former schoolteacher, don't I? Me, a terrorist!" And she hurried up the steps into the court house.

I wonder what our old pal Chris the Cop thinks of my chances of convincing the judge of my "innocence" when my time comes.

How about you? What didn't you do they say you did and did you get out of it?

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