Wednesday, November 16, 2011

On Muggles, Fear, and Rail Spikes

Last year before I became the (famous) lawyer I am today, I was a law clerk for the local district court. This is a tale from working at that Court. The names have been changed to protect the innocent (but mostly because I don't remember them). I write with the caveat that I had no special knowledge of this case nor did I ever work on it, I simply observed in the court room as we sometimes were allowed to do.

 One day, I was working especially hard on a most difficult case (see this post is already hilarious), when a Judge came down to the basement of the court house where we law clerks are unceremoniously stuffed. (We had no windows to prove it was still daylight outside. We called it the Justice Cave). He explained that his next case was probably going to be entertaining because the defendant had freaked out on a different judge in a different matter.

Apparently, the defendant, who we will call "Melvin" had used all kinds of colorful language to describe the previous judge and she was... less than pleased. I'm pretty sure he was held in contempt and, in all likelihood, he extended his sentence quite a bit. But, for us who had not seen the sun, this sounded like a fantastic break from our usual day of writing and reading, I mean who wouldn't want to see some crazy guy freak out in a court room? What we witnessed that day was more than I could have hoped for.

The defense attorney was the only one in the court room when four law clerks piled into the back to watch what was surely going to be a really bad day for this poor public defender. He knew what we were up to. He looked clearly defeated. He asked us, "Are you guys here for the show?" We explained we were law clerks and part of our job was that we had to opportunity to watch court every once and a while. He said, "Yeah, alright. Well since your here to learn, the theme for my argument today is 'why I should have gone to medical school.'" He was having a rough week. But little did he know his day was going to get a little better later on, but I'll get to that.

 The prosecutor came in and just started chuckling at the defense attorney, but not in a mean way, it was purely sympathetic chuckling. He asked the defense attorney what he had done when Melvin started on his tirade. The public defender replied, "I just kept my head down and pretended like I was taking notes. It was all I could do." The defendant was then brought into the court room. He was a short man. Clean shaven. Not at all what I was expecting from a man who was on trial for criminal threat, because he pointed a knife at someones throat. OH, yeah, "allegedly" pointed a knife. (whew! can't forget that one).

 The the Judge came in, and we all stood. Even Melvin.

 The Prosecution called his first witness, who was the victim. Again, not what I was expecting. The victim, who we will call Bud, was in his late 50's, had a completely gray mullet down half of his back, a creepy mustache, and was wearing a fine brown t-shirt that stated plainly his identity,


 (For those of you who aren't nerds that is a non-magical person from Harry Potter.)

 It came out during questioning that they were both homeless and lived outside this third mans home which occasionally would rent the back room to these gentlemen. The landowner had two daughters. (The source of the gentlemen's conflict. See this is almost Shakespearean). Bud had made an inappropriate comment about one of the daughters figure which he unceremoniously repeated, verbatim, to the courtroom. (which was funny in itself because he said, how do I put this delicately ... an then just blurted out the vulgarity).

Bud continued his harrowing story of how Melvin and he had gotten into an argument about the landlord's daughter. Only to pause every once and a while, stare at the Defendant and declare, "WELL THAT'S WHAT HAPPENED MELVIN! I'M SORRY IT COME TO THIS, BUT THAT'S WHAT HAPPENED."

Then we came to the climax of the story.

 Melvin had drawn his knife and stuck it to Bud's throat, in defense of the daughter's dignity!

The prosecutor asked the crucial question in a criminal threat case, "Now, when Melvin had the knife to your throat, were you scared he might stab you?" (this is important because one of the elements of the crime is that he was in fear or apprehension of bodily harm.) (Also, Objection! Leading! Anyone?)

 Bud sits and thinks. He thinks some more. Something about that phrase bothers him. "Was I scared?" he thinks silently to himself.

 He responds to the court room, saving, in his mind, his dignity, "Nah...I wasn't scared." (Insert Perry Mason Gasp) (Well...if Perry Mason defended the three stooges)

 "You weren't scared?"

 "no, ya see, I had a rail my back pocket. I knew that if Melvin tried to get me, I could, *motions stabbing to the court room* get 'em time." (SERIOUSLY HE MADE A STABBING MOTION IN THE COURT ROOM. Presumably to demonstrate his considerable nimbleness.)

 That's right Topeka, your harmless homeless neighborhood Bud, carries with him a rail-spike, but fear not, its only for defense against Melvin.

Well now that the prosecutions case was shot to hell, the Defense counsel looked down right chipper!

 On his cross examination we heard all about the rail spike and its defensive capabilities. And how it made Bud impervious to fear. Bud was practically a super hero defending the streets from evil with his rail spike by the end of the cross. (maybe that's just in my mind: Bud, who's secret identity is "spike-man"! The silver-mulleted man with a mustache, keeping our streets safe.)

 Now the prosecution called Melvin to the stand. ..whose meandering testimony featured, his favorite drink of choice, Earthquake. (12.5% alcohol per volume for only 2 bucks, they call it a "High Gravity Lager" I think they mean: "high tectonic stress lager" but I won't fault them for mixing metaphors, their target market is homeless people and college students. Markets that, by the way, overlap a lot...)

 Another major issue in the case became why Melvin cussed out the police when they arrested him. The answer was simple to Melvin: they made him put down his taco in order to handcuff him.


 I think this is only explained by the fact that the prosecutor was bored or depressed he was losing or something, but we heard more about that taco than I ever thought possible in a court of law. Made me hungry.

But alas, nothing in Melvin's testimony could save the prosecutions case, not even the taco. (Not to mention Melvin had awareness enough to realize things were going well for him and cussing out the judge was not presently necessary).

The assistant prosecutor ultimately had to motion for a change in the charges. I never learned what happened after that hearing. But I like to think that Bud and Melvin buried the hatchet, (or rail spike, as the case may be) and made amends over a taco and earthquake. Both do not sound too bad right now.

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