Saturday, January 08, 2005

My first court experience and redemption in the sweet arms of justice

Last Thursday evening, after the gods of winter blew 8.5 inches of snow across the streets and sidewalks of Madison, I drove/slid to Middleton's Municipal Court to plead my case against a traffic ticket. After years and years of a spotless driving record (even though I am prone to exercise my Michigan leadfoot quite liberally), I got caught. I ran a red light. Right in front of a cop. Damn.

Truthfully, I was nervous about court. I imagined the judge, with his stiff, cold finger of merciless judgement pointing accusingly at me and telling me what a bad person I was for not slamming on my brakes at the intersection. So what if doing so would have left me in the intersection at the end of my braking, sent Dakota flying unceremoniously into the front seat with me, and rearranged all the food in the front passenger seat into a nice abstract formation on the floor. I felt like I did the right thing. The officer disagreed, and cited me.

So I went to court on my appointed day, very prompt. Early, even. I sat there and watched people mill in. Normal looking people. People who looked a little apprehensive and nervous like me, plus a few who looked like they'd done all this before (I heard one kid behind me, couldn't have been more than 17, talk about how this court was different-looking than one he'd been in in Florida).

Eventually, court got started, and the judge came in. He wore a black robe, a bit of ceremony which I appreciated, because, if you're going to get the municipal book thrown at you, the judge better damn well have a black robe on. He looked nice. He looked a bit like an older Howard Dean, except without all the ill-advised whooping and rolled-up shirtsleeves. He went through some initial explanation, then launched into the judgementpalooza.

There were about four people in front of me. One was driving without a valid license. High school student. She had a piss-poor excuse and he threw the book at her. Full fine, full points. The next was a girl who was cited for disorderly conduct. She cracked me up, because she actually took the police officer's report, point-by-point, and said what the officer documented was untrue. As if some tired police officer who's interacting with this girl at 2:00 in the morning has any interest in fabricating a story about some piss-ant disorderly conduct charge. The judge promptly lost his patience with her and sent her off to talk to the city attorney. I still chuckle thinking about her chutzpah...or was it stupidity? Still not sure on that one. Then there were two speeders, one citation each. Good driving records, reduced fine, reduced points.

Then there was me.

I went up to the podium. Podiums are supposedly comforting to people who have to speak in public, I remember hearing that somewhere. The judge repeated the charge and asked me for my plea. "No contest," I said. He thanked me and asked if I had any statement. I said I did, and proceeded to tell him my rationale for running the red light. Per my Mamacita's instructions, I was very deferential. I admitted my guilt, I stated my reasons, and said that, in hindsight, I would do things differently. I asked that my good driving record be taken into consideration, and then I shut the hell up.

The judge looked up and smiled at me. Howard Dean, Sr., SMILED! He thanked me for my "straightforward statement," said that my driving abstract was crystal clear and so, in consideration of that, he was going to reduce the charge to "Driver's View Obstructed," which was two points instead of the four associated with the first charge, and reduced my fine by what I can only assume were the court costs. I paid by check, got my receipt and left, and that was that.

When I got home, Dakota didn't even wake up. I had to go touch her sleeping body in her crate before she looked up, sleepy-eyed, as if to say, "Hey, how are ya? What? You were GONE?" I told her she was lucky, that Mama almost went to prison for running a red light and left her an orphan. She yawned and cuddled back down into her crate. I now have the goal to be as easygoing and light-footed in my life as my dog is in hers.


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