Thursday, May 19, 2011


I had been on the Bench for just over a month. I was encountering bumps in the road but learning from my missteps. I was surrounded by veteran court personnel who, being the good people that they were, were at the ready to help me at all times.
The matter before me was a violation, by a young man, of a Restraining Order which prohibited him from having any contact with a specified woman. Being in love, he consistently sent her flowers and drove by her house. Conduct not deemed dangerous per se, but, nevertheless, violating the R.O.
Indeed, on the morning of the hearing, the Probation Officer, assigned to the case, spoke to me in my lobby in order to helpfully brief me on the background.
"Judge, here's the story with this guy." The off-the record atmosphere encouraged him to spread it out for me  in candid fashion, for which I was most grateful. "Not a bad dude, but more a pain in the ass than anything else." Ah, the grace, beauty and precision of high level legal loquaciousness.

"The thing is, I would respectfully request that you ream him a new a-hole. I mean really scare the crap outta him. The victim will be happy and I'll keep a close eye on him."
I nodded affirmatively. "But, please, Your Honor, really lay it on him, heavy." I morphed into the Raging Bull, stalking his prey for demolition within the first fifteen seconds of the first round.  I squinted my eyes, and all but drooled in sadistic anticipation. My tongue would be as deadly as the whip of Zoro.

As I entered the courtroom, some of the spectators, perhaps sensing the atmosphere, leaned forward on the benches. The clerk immediately called the case. The defendant stood at the microphone,  flanked by a Court Officer, uniform starched and creased, at full attention.
A word about these two men: the defendant was in his very early twenties, and it was there for all to see that any vestige of self control had been completely overcome  by the imminence of doom that, most surely, lay ahead.  He was scared to death. The C.O. looked as if he had, the night before, exhausted most if not all of his beer of choice at his pub of choice. His mouth was so dry that tackling more than two syllables at a time would have surely caused lockjaw. Moreover, his goddamn hair hurt. Patience was not to be his strong suit, that day.

The clerk handed me the file. I glared at the violator and began my menacing message.

"Sir, listen to me, very, very closely." The accused began to visibly shake with fear. I decided to ratchet up the sneer and contempt volumes, but not too much, lest I look like the Judge that I'm not.

"You  have been ordered to stay away from and have no contact with......" I paused, for I had never ascertained the name of the woman he was bothering.  The seconds of silence grew longer as I desperately scanned the docket sheet.  The defendant began to whimper, causing the Court Officer to advise him to"shuddup!" The man began crying that he didn't want to go to jail, but rather to his mother. Not an unreasonable request, actually.
The longer my delay, the more his cries increased. "I wanna go home!"  The C.O. replied,"turn it off or I'll deck ya". Now, there's a guy who would take a bullet for me. The thought entered my mind that I was about to lose complete control of the courtroom.

At last, I saw a block on the docket sheet entitled "complainant" with a woman's name typed in: Jane Sturgis.
I was ready to continue...."no contact with Jane Sturgis! That means if you see her walking on the street towards you, cross to the other side and walk in the opposite direction. If you see Ms. Sturgis in a store, stop in your tracks and get the hell out of there, fast! Don't call her, don't write to her, don't send her anything, etc. etc. etc."
I was really whipping myself up into a lather---(and, by the way, who the hell ever came up with that phrase? and does he/she not need psychiatric help, fast?)---and, at the same time, the defendant could be heard moaning, over and over,"I'll do it. I'll do whatever the Judge says. But, how can I, when I don't even know who Jane Sturgis is? (screaming now) WHO THE HELL IS JANE STURGIS?"

Something had gone amiss. If this guy was making this up, he could pass a polygraph test administered by a security organization so secret that nobody knew its name. I almost paused myself into an eyes open coma.

Suddenly, my Clerk turned around and looked at me. His face was kind of a reddish green. In a tone of panic, he hissed,"Judge, Jane Sturgis is the cop who made the arrest. The victim's name is Susan Troy."

Without missing a beat, I continued,"And that goes for Susan Troy, as well. My words relate to both of them!" And, I then repeated my "don't" shpiel, all over again, segueing from "Sturgis" to "Troy". I was just as menacing, but this time, the defendant just kept nodding "yes", with a huge smile of relief.

That story made the rounds of District Courts for miles and miles. It was transformed into a legend talking point. And, whenever Officer Sturgis came into my courtroom, which she did, with great frequency, a fellow cop would escort her to sidebar, to make sure that I could see that she was o.k.
And, she would always say,"Thank you so much for protecting me, Judge Alch. I owe my safety to you." When I retired from the Bench, many years later, that story was still alive and well, and Officer Sturgis would always give me a heads-up on her welfare.

P.S.: six months after the incident, I was designated to act as "the emergency Judge" for a two week period. I was on call for all matters, in and around my Court's jurisdiction, that occurred between 4:30p.m. and 8:30a.m. One night, I received a call from the State Police that detectives, assigned to narcotics, needed a Judge's signature for the issuance of a search warrant. They came to my home at 3:15a.m. I read the supporting documents, which were all in order, and issued the warrant. As the police were leaving, one detective stated,"I just wanted you to know, Your Honor, that Officer Jane Sturgis is just fine."

I never did anything to make the Sturgis story go away.

No comments:

Post a Comment