131. Justice Delayed


Mr. Hockenberry, aka Mr. Screamy from post # 128, did not show up for his hearing at 1:15 p.m. although I did; his public defender did; the judge did; and Officer Randy did. That’s a lot of did’s and one big didn’t. The judge waited the prescribed 10 minutes before declaring him in violation. A warrant was issued for his arrest. Keep in mind that he had been arrested three days after my altercation with him. His 24th drunk and disorderly charge on record. What a guy. Civilly Unfit.

What I did not understand was the judge said something about going to trial. I asked Officer Randy what this meant. He sighed and said, “The judge really blindsided me. It means we have to go to another trial later.” I was quietly disgusted. He turned to the very young public defender and said, “You know if he’ll just plead guilty we can avoid all this. Mr. Burrito here was being a good citizen and he’s been dragged to court twice now.”

The public defender smiled at me and said, “Mr. Burrito, I thought you looked familiar. I had you in seventh grade. I went to law school because of our debate!”

I smiled, got her name and caught up on her travels and travails. She was shiny as a brand new penny, and I was glad to see that one of my former students had done a lot with her life. I mentioned that my daughter was finishing law school soon, though I don’t wish public defending on her. Something nice had come out of the land of stupid.

As my mind tends to do, I wandered off into the neural woodlands of my memories, taking right hand turns back into my youth and justice, justice and youth. Lo’ and behold I found a pair of courtroom scenarios, one that was eerily similar to my drama. That will be served second.

I went to college in downtown Richmond, Virginia. My buddies and I rented subpar apartments near our campus. One slumlord stood out above the many– Mrs. Shockett. Her husband, as I recall, was a dentist. She extracted apartment rents; he extracted teeth. They lived in a mansion on Monument Avenue with a Claus Oldenberg clothespin sculpture in their front yard. Get the picture?  One unusually cold winter the pipes in my apartment froze. Her old handyman could not get to us for two weeks, during which time I had to find room to live with friends who had heat and water. At the end of that cold month, I deducted half the rent, seeing as I could not reside in the apartment. She at first claimed to understand the problem, but later on demanded the other half month’s rent. (We’re talking $65.00 in the late ’70’s.)  She decided to take me to court and I obliged. I went down to the imperial courtroom on Broad Street and waited for my case. Several other college kid renters were there as well. When my case came up, the judge noted that Mrs. Shockett had accepted half the rent and cashed the check. Case closed. I won. Cool, little david put a dent in Goliath’s chariot. It felt good to have a judge rule against the wealthier, local slumlord who could buy and sell us all. Exoneration felt like a drug that day.
Now my second brush with the justice system happened later that same year. I parked my 1968 Ford Falcon in front of our apartment on Pine Street, parking that was not metered. Folks understood that half the street was not metered so that the residents could park there for free. Well, one day I came home from work and some punk had parked in my space. I was indignant. The only space left was the meter. I pulled into the metered space in a huff. I thought, “That dude stole my parking space. I’m not paying a meter.” It was a dime, and I stood on the dime principle. I was not going to pay for what was an implied right of rental in a run down row house neighborhood.

The next thing I knew the space opened up later that day, after I had a $3.00 parking ticket on my windshield. I was incensed. My dime principle had escalated 30 times in just a few hours. I threw the ticket away, thinking that the city ticket police would find a way to fumble my case. They did not. Later I received a notice in the mail that my $3.00 ticket was overdue and now cost $15.00 to settle. I didn’t have a dime to begin with, and now I was looking at 150 times inflation. Ummm, my rebellion was getting expensive. It said on the ticket that I could appear in court to refute it, but if I lost there would be court costs totaling an additional $35.00. I went to court because I had the time and I did not have $15.00.   When my parking ticket review came up, the judge said, “Pay it and court costs. You have no case.” I don’t recall saying anything. I was in too deep. I couldn’t breathe. My dime challenge was not up to $50.00. Wounded pride and unchecked anger make a potent cocktail, Blogollas.

As I went through the payment processing office, I explained that I did not have the $50.00 and would not likely find it any time soon. The clerk said to me, “Well, you could appeal it.” I asked what that would cost. He said, “Nothing if you win. Court costs again if you lose, so you’re looking at over $100.00.” I gulped. “Let’s appeal it. I’m not going to jail today.”

A couple of weeks later my court date arrived. I was confused on the time it began, so as a result I was late by 20 minutes or so. I went into the assigned courtroom and found a rape trial in progress. I was more confused or confuseder. I sat for a while just engrossed in the proceedings, wondering why my parking ticket wound up here in serious criminal court. I quietly slipped out and went to the processing clerk. The guy explained to me that the presiding judge saw a parking  ticket was being appealed and threw it out. “What’s that mean?” I asked. “It means you’re done. The case is over. You don’t owe any money.”

I was elated. Unlike the frozen pipes case, I had some culpability in the dime caper. In a weird way I felt like I had earned $100.00 and began thinking about what I would buy with the money that I did not really have. I imagine Mr. Hockenberry is thinking the same things today. Where can he get some cheap wine and bellow? I guess we will find out soon. It is said that “justice delayed is justice denied”… but that recipe actually worked out pretty well for me.

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