The rather bored arm of the law

Driving up to the Tri-Cities to pick cherries last month, I got pulled over for driving 70 in a 60 zone. Cursed lead right foot of mine, I tend to speed on the same section of Route 12 because I want to put the stench from the Bad Broccoli Plant behind me as quickly as possible. I hadn’t spent time thinking that on Sunday evenings, the cops are out, hunting out-of-town speeders who’ve come to Walla Walla for a wine weekend and who are heading back to Seattle before the work week begins. I was driving right through ambush territory.

I looked at the ticket and saw that the fine was $144. Ouch. Certainly, it was less than a similar violation in say, the money-grubbing jurisdiction of Washington, DC, but as I’m not bringing in any income to the household right now, I was offended that I’d caused us money. I told Susanne I would go to court to see if I could get it reduced at all. After all, I have the time.

I showed up about 20 minutes before the court session of 9:00 a.m., signed in, and sat down in the empty courtroom. About five minutes later, a group of people began amassing outside the courtroom door, over in the county office. They huddled around their lawyer, apparently going over the audible plays for the day. Next another group of people walked in, shuffling quickly by the first group. Each camped out on opposite ends of the galley, making me think there was some drama between them. I presumed it would be interesting.

The clerk of the court walked in, and she looked just like a woman from Minnesota who had a crush on Susanne, never verbalized. This woman dislikes me, presumably because I’m Susanne’s partner, so the clerk, wholly unrelated to Unrequited Crush Woman, unnerved me a little. I kept expecting daggers to shoot out of her eyes, but no projectiles were thrown my way through the whole event of the morning, as it turns out.

Anyway, the clerk unlocked a door to the parking lot that had a WARNING: Do Not Open This Door message on it, making me concerned for all of us. What was the point of the message if they were just going to ignore it this way? And clearly the clerk, with her nonchalant manner, had unlocked this door many, many times before. Who was over seeing the overseers here, exactly?

In walked a prisoner and a sherrif’s deputy, doing their best to look the part. The prisoner could only be described as disheveled, wearing orange crocs and a black and white striped prison uniform straight out of The Shawshank Redemption. When was the last time Walla Walla bought new prison clothes, 1947? He sat down next to the shaved head guard, who stood in rigid position, and honestly, the guard scared me a lot more than the prisoner did. I know which one I’d rather see in a dark alley, and it wasn’t Mr. White Pride in Uniform.

Then it was the Arrval of the Attorneys — both in slightly ill-fitting pinstriped suits, as if each had bought them one dress size ago. Each also had a 6-inch thick stack of files that they barely touched through the proceedings, making me wonder why on earth anyone would carry around 40 pounds of paper if they didn’t have to. Perhaps it’s something I’d understand if I’d gone to law school. Maybe they were print outs of the US Constitution.

The judge entered, and we rose to acknowledge his presence. He looked a bit like Wilford Brimley’s younger, more dashing brother, and it was nice not to hear him say the word, “diabeetus.” I really hate those commercials. I kept looking for the cop who’d written me the ticket. Back in New York, they have to show up as witnesses or the judge dismisses the ticket. This makes traffic court in New York awful because all kinds of folks show up hoping to get out of paying.

The prisoner went first. A translator sprang up from out of nowhere. His was a sad story. Caught driving under the influence, the officer learned that he was an undocumented worker, and he had six weeks until deportation. County officials need to close out his case, however, so they still want to proceed with prosecuting him for the DUI. I don’t understand the law here, of course, but I felt for him, who obviously regretted getting in the car that fateful evening. He shuffled away and back out to the parking lot after conferring with the defense pinstriped guy.

Next up were the Hatfields and the McCoys, otherwise known as Feuding Families from College Place. Whatever originally irked one party is no longer understandable by human beings, though perhaps humpback whales can wrap their brains around it. Party A was looking for a permanent restraining order against Party B, their neighbors from across the street and one house over. Heck, they didn’t even live next door to each other? They wanted Party B’s surveillance cameras taken down because they were pointing at their livingroom, they intimated that Party B had poisoned and killed one of their dogs, and they feared for their safety. Well, holy crap. So much for the sweet 7th Day Adventist town. Party B maintained that since they installed the cameras, no dogs had urinated on their lawn, or knocked over their trash, or otherwise defaced their property. Party B’s main complaint was that Party A’s massive pickup truck and towed boat, when parked in front of Party A’s house, blocked Party B’s ability to get in and out of their driveway, which brought up two questions for me: 1., what an eyesore for the neighborhood, and 2., with all the cheap expanses of land out here, why didn’t the town build wider frigging roads?

The judge looked at them with a jaded eye. He’s seen it all, I imagined. Twenty minutes later, he reached his decision, a compromise between what both sides wanted.

Next up were the speeding infractions. My kind of people. Here’s what I had come to address, myself. One by one the judge called them up. I learned then that in Washington State, unlike in New York, the affidavit written by the ticketing officer serves as the witness for the state, so no wonder my cop wasn’t there. No easy dismissals here. As it was, each leadfooted driver sounded more ridiculous than the previous person. Oh, I never speed, Your Honor, I just was doing 66 in a 60 zone. That counts as speeding, ma’am. One declared that the cop had set a trap. Yup, that’s what they do, ma’am. But although none of these folks got off scott free, he did reduce their ticket amount to $90, a $64 “discount,” in other words. But I was happy, anticipating that as soon as I got called up, I’d look like an ass for a short bit and get some fine knocked off as well.

They didn’t call me up.

Next the judge called up a woman who had another sad story. She had to come to the court every couple of months to prove she was still sober and in alcohol counseling and AA. Apparently she also had a probation officer. I guessed something had gone horribly wrong in her life for all of this monitoring. She’d missed her appointment in July and was here on a bench warrant. The judge looked at her and calmly told her that saying she hadn’t gotten anything in the mail telling her to show up wasn’t an excuse, that she knows this is the arrangement, and needs to call the court if she doesn’t hear from them, and then at some point, they’ll let her out of making all these visits. She nodded, got her paperwork, and left with her mother. I felt for her, and the prisoner who had left earlier. I complain about not finding a job in Walla Walla, but I should remember to be thankful, too, that my life is full of blessings and good people who love me and who I, for my part, adore.

The prosecuting pinstripe headed back to me in the galley, now sitting by myself.

“So uh, what’s your last name,” he asked me. He had on light brown shoes with a navy suit, but I decided I’d answer him anyway.

“Maroon, Everett Maroon,” I said, wanting to bonk myself for mimicing the great James Bond, albeit unintentionally.

The judge asked me to come forward.

“Mr. Maroon, I don’t know why I don’t have your paperwork. Give me just a second here, please.”

“Yes, Your Honor,” I said. And then I added, as if my mouth had decided to make noise without consulting my brain, “I would just like to note for the Court that I was the first one here today.”

I’d been there for two hours at this point. The courtroom staff laughed, including the judge.

He looked at me.

“You know, I could just print out this affidavit off the Internet and proceed,” he began, “but you’ve sat here patiently all morning, so I’m just going to dismiss this infraction.”

“Thanks, Your Honor,” I said, nearly leaping up from my chair.

$144 I don’t have to pay now. I wonder what that will buy me on the cruise to Alaska next week….

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3 Comments on “The rather bored arm of the law”

  1. Gail
    August 5, 2009 at 5:30 pm #

    Great story Everett, and well told! But I have to admit that I now want to know what the judge decided for the Hatfields and McCoys! And did you choose the tags? I’ve never seen bad broccoli plant as a tag before…

  2. evmaroon
    August 5, 2009 at 6:59 pm #

    Yeah, Bad Broccoli Plant is a tag I’ve used before — it’s a Boise Cascade paper mill in Wallula, on the way out of town on Route 12. And it stinks just like rotten broccoli. I often want to throw up when I drive by it, it’s so awful.

    As for the judge, he said there wasn’t anything his court could do about the cameras, and he began his judgment by saying that sometimes restraining orders were a good fit for a neighbor dispute, other times not such a good fit. He was not so sure about this case. He ordered a one-year “no contact” order so that the couple with the surveillance cameras couldn’t talk to the neighbors or come within 10 feet of their property line. The neighbors wanted the order to read within 10 feet of their vehicles, but the camera people’s lawyer argued that the neighbors would just park on the other side of the street, and then is the court saying that the camera people can’t even walk to the edge of their own property then? So the judge kept it at the property line. Given that other homeowners on the block had put in affidavits on behalf of the complaining family, I’d say the camera people were a little ker-azy. But overall it sounded like both sides had gone off the deep end.

  3. Sharon
    August 6, 2009 at 5:09 pm #

    Please remember that not all the people living in CP are SDA.
    Also, I had a good chuckle at your discussion compared to a recent episode of “Jail” which showed Las Vegas cops who were practically abusing a prisoner (tied to a chair for protesting that she HAD to go to the bathroom) to the OR and WA cops whose section left you feeling bad for the prisoner and wishing there was a better solution–and let you know that is what the cops thought as well.
    I was never frustrated with the police till I moved to NJ.

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