Saturday, June 13, 2009

Courtroom Drama.

Last Monday, I took my friend up on an invitation to visit her courtroom. She's a criminal judge at the Matheson Courthouse and she's retiring at the end of the month, so I only had a couple more opportunities to see her in action. May I just say that it was absolutely fascinating to me?! I'm know it was just another day in court for her, but it was really quite riveting for me most of the time. She (we'll just call her Judge) had us (Katie and I) come on a day where she had a lot of hearings, mostly sentencing hearings. I'm a people watcher and this was people watching on steroids (!) because you could watch them, and then hear all their dirty laundry aired when it was their turn (or their family member's turn) to be seen before the Judge. And as you would suspect and as Katie remarked, "It wouldn't be a day in court without a man in a neckbrace!"

Judge went through nearly 60 cases that day. Theft. DUIs. Drug possession and intent to sell. I was taking notes (because I'm a nerd like that), but there got to be too many that I just stopped counting. Quite a few were no shows. Several were continued for a Monday in the near future. The number of defendants who were already in custody (cuffs, chains, and uniforms) was a little surprising to me. I'm not sure why. I guess it makes sense, but I just didn't expect it. All of them were cuffed at the ankles and hands, although some hands were cuffed in front and some were cuffed in back. I'm not sure what the difference was. I assume it just had something to do with the level of security they were under. Some were clothed in navy uniforms, some in mustard yellow, others in white, and a few in olive green. Again, no rhyme or reason with the color distribution.

Judge spoke to each defendant individually as she was sentencing them. By asking how much schooling they had had, she assured that they fully understood all the paperwork that they had read and signed, and that they fully understood that they were relinquishing their constitutional rights to a trial by pleading guilty. She spoke to them about their choices and the opportunity they now had to improve their lives. Judge is a no-nonsense, yet personable person, which definitely came across in her interactions with everyone. She was very fair with each person and case she saw, but wouldn't allow the lawyers or their clients to get out of line or walk all over her.

Watching the lawyers interact with one another and then with Judge was also quite a show to watch. Some of the lawyers seemed rather inept, while others seemed quite capable. Some came across as arrogant, while others appeared rather shy and timid. Later, in Judge's chambers, I asked her if there were lawyers that she just thought were complete idiots? She chuckled, and said, "The attorneys would be mistaken if they didn't they think that we rank them, just as they rank us."

The Scott M. Matheson Courthouse is a beautiful building both on the exterior and the interior. All the pictures in this post were taken by me the day we went. I just thought the ceiling in the dome was beautiful.

This last picture is of the City and County building, which was built in 1894, taken from the Matheson side of the street.

As I mentioned, after the court session ended, Judge invited us back into her chambers. We talked about her work, her retirement, and the relationship between compassion and justice for the next two hours. I think it's safe to say that Judge is one of my favorite people. I mean, here is a woman who went to college with my dad, but she considers ME a friend and treats me as an equal. She truly is no respector of persons. Watching her in action was a pleasure!

Photos a la moi.

1 comment:

Brooke said...

"judge" is one of my favorite people now too. The courthouse is beautiful!