Sunday, July 31, 2011


On the daily court docket, traffic citations are regarded as the lighter side of the menu. Except for those who have been pinched. Accordingly, they are usually dealt with first. At 9a.m., the First Session opens for business and the clerk calls out the list of names. As the "respondent" comes forward, so does the police officer who issued that particular citation.

These cops work the roads which are within the Court's jurisdiction. Accordingly, the cops are very familiar faces to the Judge. Not just for tickets but as witnesses in criminal trials. Just as accordingly, some Judges are afraid to piss them off. You heard it right. Theoretically, that's not the way it's supposed to be. Actually, you betcha-bippy. Earning and keeping the cops' respect is a very helpful component of a Judge's ability to be a successful politician and strategist, as well as his ability to be fair, across the board. He must balance things in order to get things done, his way. I'm giving you the inside skinny, on the way things are.

To me, traffic tickets were very sensitive matters. They were the cases which brought about the closest relationship between a citizen and a Judge. Very up close and personal. Usually, no lawyer is involved. It's just the alleged offender, pleading his own case. It was relatively easy to spot, shall we say, the most disingenuous defenses.

"I've got pictures of the scene which show so many trees that it was impossible for the cop to see me."

"The cop's radar gun was not working properly, I just know it."

"My car was in such bad shape that it could not go 70 miles per hour. Besides, if I had been going that fast, I would have known it because I would have crashed."

But, every once in a while, the individual says,"Your Honor, I was speeding. The officer was very polite. It's just that I can't afford to be found responsible. I mean the money. First, I'll have to pay a fine. Then, my insurance company will add a surcharge to my monthly payments for seven years, and I earn just enough to pay my living expenses. This has happened to me just once, two years ago, and it'll never happen again."

WHOA!!! I've got me a truth-teller. And I can identify with his plight. I check his driving record. He did not attempt to mislead. I had been in his shoes myself, but my pleas had fallen on deaf ears.

I motion the cop to the sidebar and whisper,"Officer, I want to give this guy a break, but only if it's o.k. with you."

Trust me, no cop is going to say, in substance, to a Judge,"Up yours with gauze." And besides, I'm not bypassing him. I'm keeping him in the loop. Invariably, the officer will justifiably blush with self-importance and say,"That's fine, Judge." And he'll mean it. The finding is "not responsible."

This often turns into a two way street of cooperation. For, it was not unusual for a cop to see me in my lobby, before I took the bench, and admit that he has had second thoughts as to whether he had properly issued a citation involving an accident which he had not personally observed, but had instead, relied on hearsay statements. This was his way of telling me to call it as I saw it and not to be concerned with overruling his call. Man,it ain't a murder case, but that's justice all the same.

Thus, a judge must do what he thinks is right. But to do it with all parties on board. is sweeter still. I didn't want my court people to fear me. I wanted their respect which I had to earn.

I think I'm on to something, here. There will be more posts which shall provide glimpses of what really happens in courthouses, behind closed doors. Nothing scandalous. but fascinating as hell. You could almost sell tickets.

So, when cited for a traffic ticket, in the absence of any solid factual defense, try the Alch mercy pitch. Got me, every time.

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