Saturday, July 16, 2011


The atmosphere in a courtroom is generally regarded as one of solemn decorum, with a strict adherence to rules and custom. When the judge enters, everyone--- lawyers, court personnel and spectators--- take heed not to piss him (or her ) off. If the judge has a mean face, usually indicating the same type of disposition, the tiptoe posture of everyone is extraordinarily high. Whispering with bowed head and lowered eyes is the code of conduct. I didn't dig it.

But, every once in a while, the culture of common life supplants that of common law. I confess that I,  deliberately, encouraged a relaxed and judge-friendly environment wherein attorneys could bask in the comfort zone of being treated with respect by the Court. Brings out the best in them and everybody wins.

Once upon a time (heh, heh), I was presiding over a hearing to determine whether there existed probable cause for the issuance of a criminal complaint for assault and battery. The combatants were two gentlemen who worked as cooks at the same restaurant. They had both been born and raised in eastern Europe and, accordingly, spoke with extremely thick accents. The first witness was the alleged victim. I asked him to explain, in detail, what had happened. He related the fight in the restaurant kitchen and his attempt to flee through the double doors, while being chased by his attacker. I set forth his testimony at this juncture of the narrative.

'He wass runnink at me and wass yellink and yellink."

I said,"It is important that I know the exact words used. Now, for the record, sir, what did he say?"

The man hesitated, took a deep breath, and declared, "He yellt "you modderfo----. You koks-----."
The courtroom acoustics were designed to amplify sound, and besides, he was screaming into a microphone.

As a result of my thirteen years on the bench, I can authoritatively tell you that the Court Officers are the bellwethers of courtroom phenomena. If they think something is funny, then, man, it is funny. Their reactions were uniform. Jaws hung open, followed by a rising tide of red, engulfing their faces, as they valiantly struggled to not lose complete control of their bladders. On my part, I was pinching the flesh at my waist in order to draw blood and cause such pain as to gain my full attention.

Fifteen seconds elapsed. Squirts of laughter were erupting all over. Then, my inner core of mischief awoke, and I went with it.

"Sir, to make sure my notes are accurate, would you please repeat what your attacker said?"

My Chief Court Officer (one of my closest friends, to this day) shot me a glance that said, "Beautiful. Absolutely gorgeous."

"You modderfo----. You koks------."

An echo ricochetting off the courtroom walls, ultimately engulfed by cascading waves of laughter, as everybody, taking cue from me, really lost it. That legend lives on, perpetuated by those who eyewitnessed it, as a testament to the compatibility of respect and enjoyment in a courtroom.

I wouldn't have it any other way. And I didn't. Because, don't look now,  judges are human beings and real life is not checked at the courthouse door.

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