An ugly job, but it’s a living

On contempt for authority – Or, “they were giving out time like it was lunch!”

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One night I stopped a guy who was thinking about running. In fact, he was making the right moves but traffic was so heavy that he gave up before it ever became a true chase. The intent was there, but the opportunity was squelched. He deserved to go to jail, but I knew that the Assistant DA would see the case as weak and take an easy plea bargain, so I wrote him five moving citations. The potential fines were heftier than what a probation would have cost him, but there was no jail time involved so I figured justice would be satisfied.

A month later I went to my regular traffic court docket and saw him in the gallery. He had entered not guilty pleas on all five counts. It used to be that if you showed up for the court setting on the ticket, and the officer who wrote the tickets did not appear, a not guilty plea trumped the prosecution’s failure to be ready for trial because the only witness was not present. A common tactic was to show up, plead not guilty, and then see if the cop made it to court. If he made it to court you could always change your plea to guilty, pay the fines and be done with it.

I think that was what was going on that night, but somebody had neglected to explain to the idiot that he was supposed to change his plea if I was there, or else he was going to trial.

And, so we had us a trial. A couple of them actually. One of them was fast, and the other was over before it ever really started.

The guy was displaying major attitude from the second we started. Besides being guilty as hell, he was working with a defective game plan, and he was way out of his league. The prosecutor was sharp, it was an easy case for me to testify about, and the judge was a law and order type who socked it to liars and people with bad attitudes. She was the only judge I ever gave flowers to on her birthday – we had lovingly nicknamed her Becky the Butt Reamer.

One look at Mr. Attitude sending out his body language of “this is bullshit”, and I knew it was not going to be a good night for Mudville when Casey came up to the plate.

So there we were, ready for a trial before the bench: Attitude boy with his arms folded and a sneer on his face, me looking quite dashing and debonair in my blue attire, her honor Judge Becky looking “hanging judgish” in her black robes and a new blond frost job, and the prosecutor was…well he was sort of standing out. The man was color blind to half the palette, and while his mom came by on weekends to arrange the next week’s work clothes by color, on most Fridays he had run through the arrangements and was working on his own. It was Friday night and he was looking – colorful – wearing a green jacket, pale yellow shirt with a bright blue tie all over a pair of maroon pants.

The trial lasted five minutes. Mr. Colorful Prosecutor zoomed through his list of questions to prove the elements of the offense and I gave him short and concise answers. Her honor turned it over to Casey at the plate, and he whiffed a few lame questions that clearly expressed his contempt for the entire process. Judge Becky found him guilty and slammed him for the maximum fine plus costs.

“Strike One” cried the umpire.

And then it happened. The prosecutor immediately started the second trial by reciting the charge and asking Casey “How do you plead to the second count of the offense of running a stop sign?”

The reply was a piece of brilliant legal maneuvering by young Casey. He stood at the plate and swung mightily for the fences.

“Hell, I might as well plead guilty to everything. I ain’t gonna get no fair trial in this fucking kangaroo court.”

There was a moment of silence. I moved a hand back to my handcuffs because I figured home slice was about to spend some time in the can on a contempt charge. The rotund beach ball that was a bailiff struggled to raise his mass from his overworked chair. Judge Becky looked at the man as if he had just crapped his tuxedo at an elegant cocktail party. But the prosecutor, that colorful little man, quickly leaned in and looked up at the judge with a smile on his face…

“The prosecution has no objection to the pleas proffered by the defense.”

Judge Becky didn’t miss a beat and chimed quickly chimed in with her reply…

“I accept your four pleas of guilty on the remaining charges and find you guilty on each. You are sentenced to the maximum fine plus court costs. See the clerk to pay your fines. Mr. Prosecutor, call your next case, please.”

The sneer has fled from Casey’s lip, the teeth are clenched in hate.
He pounds, with cruel violence, his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
and now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.

“Strike Two, Three, Four and Five. You are out of here!” bellowed the umpire. Casey, who was just beginning to realize that he was suddenly in debt to the Some City Municipal Court for nearly three thousand bucks, slumped at the plate.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright.
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light.
And, somewhere men are laughing, and little children shout,
but there is no joy in Mudville –
mighty Casey has struck out.

People show up in court and represent themselves, and judges and prosecutors always give them leeway to make up for it. But when somebody shows up and displays utter contempt for everyone and everything in the courtroom, well, it comes down to a case of play ball or get smacked with the bat. Judges have little tolerance for games and disrespect.

Here is one of the funnier trial transcripts I have ever seen involving a contempt charge:

Murphy pleaded guilty to one count of distributing cocaine base and one count of using a firearm during a drug trafficking crime. At Murphy’s sentencing hearing, the district court sentenced him to 130 months imprisonment-seven months less than the guidelines maximum-on Count Nine and a consecutive term of 60 months on Count Ten. At the conclusion of the hearing, the following exchange occurred:

MURPHY: You should have just gave me the other damn seven-the other seven months is what you should have did, stinky mother fucker.

THE COURT: Mr. Benya-Mr. Murphy, you are summarily found in contempt of this court-

MURPHY: Just give me the other seven months.

THE COURT: You’re summarily found to be in contempt of this court. I sentence you to six months to be served consecutive to any other sentence imposed.

MURPHY: You should have just gave me the other seven months is what you should have done.

THE COURT: Mr. Murphy, I find you again in contempt of this court and you’re now summarily found in contempt for a second time and you’ll serve an additional six months consecutive to any sentence-

MURPHY: What about that? What about that? Serve that, mother fucker. . . .

THE COURT: Mr. Stone, just a minute. Mr. Murphy-

MURPHY: Bye.

THE COURT: You just gave the finger to the court. That will be a third contempt of court and that’s six-

MURPHY: Add another one to it.

THE COURT: -six more months at the end of your sentence. Well, that’s a quick year and a half.

They hand that time out quick down at the courthouse, but you serve it the old fashioned way in the big house. A day at a time.

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2 responses

  1. Great blog. Did the prosecutor happen to be Arnold Palmer after just winning the master’s?

    8 January, 2008 at 20:21

  2. Thanks for jogging my memory; I’ll post something similar momentarily.

    9 January, 2008 at 10:52

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