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A friend of mine, we’ll call him ‘Joe,’ even though his real name is ‘Bill,’ asked me to go to court with him recently. I won’t go into the details of his case except to say that it involved his driving and if found guilty he thought he'd lose his license for 30 days. He wanted me to drive him there and back, so I did.
I went along not just to help out my friend, but I was curious to see what a typical Maine District Court looked like on "trial day." Let’s just say it’s not a pleasant place to be at 8:30 in the morning. In fact, I began to think that wasting any part of a day in such a place is not particularly fun. There was very little laughter in the groups that stood outside the courtroom waiting to be called in. This was not a chatty group and I found myself looking at certain guys and thinking, "He looks like one bad dude."
I eventually found enough distractions in the hallway to make me glad I went, and my friend’s business was all over and done with in a little more than an hour.
As I surveyed the group of accused law breakers, I was surprised to see how these people were dressed for what I thought would be an important day for them - their day before a judge in a court of law. I’d never thought about it much but when I did think about it I always thought people ‘dressed up’ for something as solemn as an appearance in a stately court room. It was obvious that many of the folks in this juristiction were not thinking on that wave-length. Some of these people obviously hadn't gotten the "How to dress for your day in court" memo.
Some people were dressed neatly but very casually while others looked like they were auditioning for an episode of ‘Cops.’ In fact, I think I remember seeing some of them on ‘Cops.’ No one in the group looked like they had labored over their "day-in-court" wardrobe.
One man arrived for his big day in a T-shirt and torn, dirty sweat pants and neither looked to be fresh from a clean laundry pile. Torn, dirty sneakers completed his trial day outfit.
I don’t know if this day was typical, but court activity came in sudden bursts of activity. After standing around for almost 30 minutes a police officer called everyone into the court room and gave a quick synopsis of what would be happening that morning. He then read off the names of people who were supposed to be there. It was surprising to see how many people who were supposed to be there were not present. We were told that the no-shows would be cited for what the officer called an FTA - failure to appear.
The officer then told the group that the district attorney would be available in his office to talk to anyone who wanted to see him before court resumed.
This preliminary business was over in a matter of minutes and everyone filed out of the court room and back into the hallway. Many went and lined up outside the ‘DA’s’ office while others went outside for a cigarette.
My friend wanted to see the DA so we stood in the hallway and waited as official looking people went in and out of the DA’s busy office.
Whenever the door opened you could see several police officers in the room talking to each other. Sounds of hearty laughter spilled out into the hallway whenever the office door was opened.
"They’re obviously having a lot more fun in there than we’re having out here in the hall," I said to my friend.
He laughed but everyone else within earshot maintained their long faces, proving me right. There is no fun in the hallway on ‘trial day.’
When court resumed the first few cases were dispatched quickly and my friend was number three. As it turned out his license was suspended and I had to drive him home.
The guy in the torn sweat pants was up next. He was found guilty of being ‘an habitual offender’ and given jail time. I'm sure the judge felt that a county issued jumpsuit would be a major - if only temporary - improvement in his overall appearance.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at or 899-1868.
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