Thursday, October 11, 2007

small town traffic court

Today was judgement day for our lovely daughter. She was summoned to court to answer for running into a school bus.

We arrived half an hour early, so we walked to Java Dave's for a warm drink. Even though we live in a large, metropolitan area, the suburb we live in is not that large and has a wonderful small town feel. The brick sidewalks are lined with lovely little shops selling clothing, antiques, gifts and art. It was a beautiful morning, cool but promising a warm afternoon. If it weren't for the fact we were downtown for court, I think we would have enjoyed it immensely.

We entered the municipal court and asked which of the two court rooms held the traffic court. The room was only a third full as we walked in and found a place to sit in the old style theater seating. As we waited the room filled up and we were grateful for our seats. The defendants with representation were heard first.

The judge was probably in his late forties or early fifties, and he handled the proceedings with kindness and humor. There was one youngish man who went before the judge for public intoxication. It was obvious the judge was familiar with him. Even though he handled most of the cases with hushed tones, we were near the front and could hear most of what transpired. I heard the judge say, "Do we have a special program for him, something like frequent flier miles?" I wanted to laugh, but repressed the urge. He asked the young man how he wanted to plead and was rewarded with a shoulder shrug. "Young man, I am trying to get you out of jail. How do you plead?" The answer was too soft to hear. The judge looked down at some paperwork, looked up at the young man and said, "This has to be some kind of record. You have 74 arrests for public intoxication." The woman to the judge's left informed him that the young man had been arrested 74 times this year. "There is really nothing I can do for you here, son. Bail is set at $10,000." The judge seemed upset about the whole situation.

After a while, those with representation had all been heard and the judge began to call the rest of the room. Our lovely daughter was the first person called who had actually bothered to show up. She froze, so I said, "Present", and we walked to the bench and stood before the judge. Keep in mind there was nothing at all intimidating about this judge or this court room. The bench wasn't raised, the room was small, the judge was personable. "Young lady, you have been cited for careless driving. You were involved in an accident, is that correct?" A head bob from my daughter. "You're sixteen?" Another head bob. "May I see your driver's license?" She hands him the license, which he looks at, then lays down on his desktop. "At your age, I should probably suspend your license temporarily. Tell me why you think you should be allowed to continue driving." Silence. Tears. I lower my head and speak softly, encouraging her to say something. Anything would do at this point. He hands her a tissue and tells her not to cry. As she continues to do just that and remain mute, the judge says, "I am going to keep this temporarily. Go sit back down and think about why I should give it back to you. And don't tell me because you won't do it again. I'll call you back up."

We sit back down and he continues on through the alphabet. After about 45 minutes of hearing people get fined and sentenced for speeding in a school zone, failing to wear a seat belt, or ignoring a signal, he calls her again. She almost immediately tears up.

"Young lady, do you know why I do this?" She manages a "no, sir". "Because your parents put you into a vehicle and trust that you will be safe. The absolute worst thing that can happen is that you are hurt in an accident. Was anyone hurt in your accident?" Another, "no, sir". He finally realizes she is never going to be able to get a whole sentence out of her mouth, let alone a defense of her driving skills. He looks at me and smiles, then says, "How are your grades, dear?" "Very good." "What is very good?" She tears up and chokes. I tell him she has seven classes, six As and one B. "Excellent. If I give this back to you today, do you promise to keep those grades up and work on making that B an A?" "Yes, sir", she says. I am praying he is almost done. Handing back her license, he says, "Alright, your sentence is deferred. If you do not receive another ticket in the next 90 days, this offense will be removed from your record. The fine is $244. Young lady, I do not want to see you in here again." She looks up at him and smiles and says, "Yes, sir, I won't let you down. Thank you, sir." Finally, he knows she can fashion a complete sentence.

We got into line and she paid $100 on the fine. We decided to make her pay it herself, thinking it would be a bit of a deterrent. We made it to the car before she started sobbing. "Mom, I'm so glad it's over!" I softly told her she got off easy, and that the judge was kind and gentle, and she was lucky we were living in a small town. She looked at me with disbelief and said, "If that was easy, I can never do anything illegal again. It will kill me."

My immediate thought was: Good.


Crystal Jigsaw said...

I think it's quite normal for kids to mess up as they are maturing. You are obviously a wonderful mum to her, supportive and loving and your caring approach shines through in this blog. It would be such a deterrent if kids were treated more harshly in court. Our system is far too lenient, we see young people getting away with petty crimes which end up escalating into serious trouble. Your daughter, however, has obviously learnt her lesson - good on her. Don't be too hard on her, I'm sure this experience will have been deterrent enough!

Crystal xx

laurie said...

that judge sounds terrific.

i am sure that your daughter is going to take this to heart and not screw up again. i wish i could say the same about the 74-time drunk driver, though. he's the really dangerous one out there.

willowtree said...

Ha! I could tell you some stories about court appearances, but I won't.

the rotten correspondent said...

kaycie - you sound like an amazing mom. And that judge obviously is good at sizing people up and dealing with them that way. I think your daughter just learned a very valuable lesson.

And the guy with the 74 public intoxications? He didn't look like a big stuffed Snoopy, did he? And speak with an Australian accent?

Kim said...

I think you're right, Crystal, this experience is not something she'll forget soon!

He is terrific, Laurie. I promptly sent him a note telling him so, too. I do think she's learned her lesson. I'm lucky; she's a good girl. Mr. 74 was public intoxication, not drunk driving. I think I'd be scared to death to drive here if a guy could drive drunk 74 times in one year!

Willow, I can only imagine!

Thanks, RC. I've been working at it for 16 years now! That judge has my life long gratitude. When the boys mess up, I'll be requesting him.

The public intoxication guy was all of 23 or 24 years old. It was terrible. And no, he didn't look like Snoopy. He might have looked a bit like Snoopy back in the day, though.

-Ann said...

That was a great story - very well told. I felt like I was there (and the one in trouble :)).

Fire Byrd said...

Wondefrully writen, I felt like I was there to willing your daughtet on.
What a great judge.
And what a lesson well learnt by your daughter.
So good that you have a relationship with her that she had your support and love shinning through.

The Green Stone Woman said...

That was a hard enough lesson for her to learn. She was quite intimidated and I am sure she will not forget this for a long time. She's a good kid, don't forget that. You did a good job. Be proud of yourselves. Both of you!

Kim said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Ann. I hate to make you feel like you're in trouble, though!

Thanks, Pixie. We have worked on this relationship, my girl and me. I almost killed her when she was 13. We've come a long way since. She's a great kid.

That's is so nice of you to say, Sweet Irene. She is a lovely girl and I'm proud of her. Thanks for coming by.

elizabethm said...

What a day for you and your daughter. The judge sounds a wise man, just the sort who should be judges! I'm sure the experience will stay with her for a long time.

Iota said...

That judge sounds a very wise one. Your daughter drew a good conclusionn from the session. And at least it's over!

-Ann said...

Don't worry, Kaycie. I went to Catholic school for 13 years. I always feel like I'm in trouble. :)

Kim said...

You're quite right, Elizabeth. Thanks for coming by!

Iota, I can't tell you how pleased I am that it's over. The whole thing made me weary (nice word, weary, huh?).

Ah, guilt. I know what you mean, Ann. And I'm not even Catholic!

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

Aw, I'm crying for your daughter. You're a great mom -- you were there to support her but you weren't going to let her off easy by paying the fine yourself. And what a fantastic judge. Not an easy lesson but a necessary one.

Kim said...

You're so sweet, WUASTC. Thank you so much. I do hope she's learned her lesson.