“This is off the record,” he announced curtly to the court reporter, and her fingers and the clicking keys stopped. The witness on the stand stopped too, nervous, her words suspended mid-sentence, her eyes darting between her ex-boyfriend in the handcuffs and shackles and faded blue jumpsuit and the social worker who was her moral support for the day. And in the way he slammed a gavel down, spun his high-backed chair around, and abruptly stood, I knew somebody was in trouble and hoped it wasn’t me.
I guess it’s something people don’t think to teach their children, because they never really believe their darling will ever have to face a judge. But it’s a simple rule that everyone should know and that should be taught to most college freshmen during their orientation: when you’re waiting for your chance to convince a judge not to send your charges to trial, don’t aggravate the man.
His robe swished threateningly (if a robe can threaten) down the short aisle, and the laughter and chaos of the ante-room froze as he swung open the door, banging a chair. His back was to me but I could still feel his glare. And oddly, I don’t remember what he said in that stern, judicial and irritated tone; but I do know that most of the room moved outside, and that silence remained throughout that domestic violence hearing.
This isn’t the first time that I’ve noticed an utter disregard for the judicial system on the part of some of the younger adults coming through those chambers. Primarily college students facing under-age drinking or DUI charges, they forget to get a lawyer or scoff at the policemen coming and going.
“Look at them, they’re having a field day,” scoffed one young man with crooked teeth who thought very highly of himself and very poorly of the rest of humanity, his demure mother included. “They think they’re on Law and Order.”
Then he saw the man who arrested him, and his scoffing took on a more fractious tone. “He’s irritating me,” he told a fellow reporter and cameraman and I as we waited for a high-profile hearing to begin. He stood too close to me, both ingratiatingly and patronizingly at the same time, looking down at me while trying to stay close to the three of us (press passes, I guess, gave us an aura of importance that he seemed to covet).
There was the girl the day before Good Friday who whined about needing a ride home for Easter, just because she wanted the gifts and Easter baskets, not because she wanted to go, while her mother wrote out a check to cover her $200 fine. She rolled her eyes at most of what her mother said.
And there was a whole crowd of fraternity brothers-turned-witnesses against each other who laughed and joked and chatted that afternoon while waiting for the hearing that never happened, until the judge lost his patience and stormed out of the courtroom to silence them. Some of them faced felony charges including rioting and aggravated assault.
At some point, doesn’t common sense kick in and remind even the most irreverent person to at least pretend to respect the judge?