Thursday, September 02, 2004

My day in court

So in July I was pulled over and given a few citations. Namely, for an expired registration (got the letter, forgot to take care of it), an expired driver's license (again, forgot -- I had other things to worry about), and no proof of insurance (no explanation here: I honestly don't know what happened to the card). Since I didn't want to pay any of those tickets (and couldn't pay any of them, for that matter), I decided to wait for a municpal court date, get all of that stuff straightened out, take my case to the judge, and have the citations dismissed. Fairly common practice. Nothing out of the ordinary. My court date is set for 3:00 pm, September 1.

1:32 pm. I take my roommate's old keyboard to a pawnshop. He'd asked me to do this the night before, so I crammed the clunky thing into the backseat of my car and tried to "get at least a hundred for it" like he'd asked. Trouble was, the keyboard didn't look worth anywhere close to a hundred bucks. I thought forty or fifty would be generous, frankly. And, lo and behold, the guy at the pawnshop offers me...$40. I accept, fearing my roommate's wrath but hoping he'll listen to reason (to his credit, he came to the same conclusion on his way to work that morning). I put the cash inside my wallet for safe keeping -- I have a small amount of my own cash in there, but not for long, because at...

2:24 pm.'s off to Wal-Mart to buy jeans. See, they don't allow shorts in court, and I don't own anything but shorts, so I have to purchase something. Regrettably, I'm forced by the time constraints to head to Wal-Mart. But I buy the jeans and get the hell out of there, deftly avoiding the displays everywhere trying to sell me Passion of the Christ DVDs. After stopping for a few bucks in gas, the only money I have left is my roommate's keyboard money.

2:58 pm. With new clothing on, I enter the court and take my place in line. For those of you who have never been through this, it's not like you just go in at your scheduled time and they call your name or number and take care of you. No, they've written in about eighty other people for 3:00 pm on September 1, and it's first come first serve. Should've been there sooner.

3:16 pm. After watching numerous people plead their cases before the judge (whose name escapes me), it occurs to me that His Honor is a pretty cool guy. Understanding, fair, never rude or mean or any of the other traits that Judge Judy and her ilk tried to make synonymous with "tough." I also can't help feeling a little out of place every time I hear the clerks refer to the judge as "Your Honor," like I've wandered into a John Grisham novel or something.

3:35 pm. Finally, it's my turn. I give the judge my name, he reads off a sheet my offenses, and ask for a plea. I tell I've fixed everything, he looks at the paperwork, and dismisses the whole batch without much thought. "You're legal now," he says. "I'll assign a dismissal fee..." Err, uh-oh. " you can sit down and wait to be called." More waiting. This time, I have to wait for the clerks to finish my paperwork so I can leave. The problem -- I don't have the money for a dimissal fee (which will come out to $30 -- ten bucks per citation). At least, not today. I hear the clerks talking with other offenders, and they're working out payment plans on stuff. So surely they'll work with me, right?

3:57 pm. I'm called by the clerks. One of them hands me a slip with my name (well, sort of -- they drop my first name and write "Richard Walker," and I cannot begin to describe how much that pisses me off), case number and the dismissal fee of $30. "Just take that up to the front and pay that and you'll be done," she says. I ask her if it's necessary to pay this today, because I don't have $30 in my possession. I do, of course, but it's not mine. She tells me to go to the front and talk with "them." 'kay.

3:59 pm. I go up to the front. "Them" turns out to be a girl I went to high school with, but not one I remember fondly, nor one who remembers me at all. She basically tells me, in a digusted tone, I have to pay this today, period, no exceptions. If I don't pay, the citations won't be dismissed. I plead my case. She tells me to go back into the courtroom and talk to the "court administrator," who -- as I remember from when I set this date in the first place -- is a rather rude and disdainful person herself. But I go back to wait.

4:48 pm. The court adminstrator reveals no new character traits in our conversation. Since I can't pay the fee today, but they need it to dismiss the citations, we reach a compromise: I pay the citations today. Oh, wait, I guess that's not a compromise. Oh well. Since I don't have a choice, I'm forced to give them three-quarters of my roommate's keyboard money. And I finally get the hell out of there, just in time to be late for work.

So don't violate traffic laws. If only to avoid all of that.

You can't fight city hall, but you can goddamn sure blow it up.

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