Nobody ever likes to see flashing red and blue lights in the rear view mirror. I knew I wasn’t speeding, but as I veered to the right the police car followed me all the way to the curb. The highway patrolwoman at my window told me I had a broken tail light. I gave her my license, registration, and proof of insurance. In exchange she gave me a ticket for a hundred and twenty nine dollars. I pleaded my case that I was ignorant about the busted tail light (which was the truth) and that I would replace it later that day (which I did as it is the only repair I can competently make on my car), but she was unmoved. She handed me the ticket which gave me an option to have the fee waived if another officer of the law signed off on my repair.
Sounded easy enough so a couple days later I drove to the police station and a cop verified with his signature that I did now have two working tail lights. I took the piece of paper to the clerk of courts where you take a number to be treated like a jerk. I handed over the verification of my repair and was told my ticket was now only a hundred and two dollars. I was outraged. I explained how I was told if I fixed it there would be no consequences.
“You can take it to court.” I was told and so I did. Six weeks later I was summoned.
I had never been to a court in the city of Miami. To enter you have to take off your shoes and belt and go through a metal detector much like you would in an airport. In these circumstance I can understand the security precautions. Nobody in this multistoried building wanted to be there and I could imagine several of them bringing firearms to help voice their displeasure.
I figured it couldn’t hurt to dress professionally for this occasion. Many others shared this tactic of dressing professionally. Professional gangstaz. You really going to court with your pants halfway down your butt? I suppose it’s possible they forgot their belt at the security checkpoint, but you really think the judge will let you off on that possession charge when you’re wearing a tank top that exposes your shoulder tattoo of a marijuana leaf?
After five flights of escalators I found my appointed courtroom. There was a woman judge, a stenographer, and a prosecutor sitting at a table. Myself and ten other defendants sat in benches in the back. A man walked in with sandals and interrupted the judge to ask “Excuse me Your Honor, I am not sure if I am a 1:00 or a 2:00 case.”
The judge was very patient and checked the roster of cases. “You are a 2:00 sir. Please get in line with everyone else. We will first hear from cases with legal counsel.”
The man in sandals interrupted again. “Your honor, I’m a lawyer who is representing himself. Can I go to the front of the line?”
She agreed and I was hoping she would throw the book at him. He pleaded no contest, but begged for mercy as he was on disability. “And that your honor is why I am not wearing a suit or tie.”
The guy looked able bodied enough to me to put on a jacket, but perhaps his disability was a lack of patience toward simple tasks such as tying a Windsor knot or waiting in lines like everybody else. The judge was kind and told him he would have extended time to pay his speeding ticket.
Next was another lawyer who wanted to get the case he represented thrown out because the arresting officer did not sign the arrest warrant. The judge pointed out, “The signature is right here.”
The lawyer changed his tune. “In that case I’ll change the plea to no contest.” Ten minutes in court and I learned why they never made a spin-off to LA Law called Miami Law. That show would consist of shlubby, poorly clothed men and their well dressed colleagues who give up on their clients when the wind blows a little too hard. The season ending episode would have a cliffhanger where a defense attorney can’t find the key to the briefcase holding all his crucial documents.
Next were the lawyerless folk. The line moved very quickly, but I was a little frightened by the cases that went in front of me. They were told this was a pretrial hearing and simply to make a plea. At the actual trial would be the opportunity to make their case. Would this mean I would have to come back here again? Fortunately the answer was no. They saw my documentation, the judge declared the case closed and I simply had to go down the escalators from whence I came to enter a room and grab another number to get the paper that proved to the world that my car had two working tail lights. Our tax dollars at work.