Monday, January 12, 2009

I Can't Stand the Truth! (My Day in Court)

It started innocently enough one dark and rainy evening. We went out to dinner in Theresa's in Princeton and parked in a handicapped parking space. I didn't do it on purpose. Until I found the summons tucked under my windshield wiper, I didn't know it was a handicapped spot. It was not clearly marked, IMHO.

Like I said, it was a dark and stormy night.

For those not experienced in major parking crimes out there, handicapped parking violations are particularly reviled by the law. The fine is $250 for the first violation AND requires a court appearance. You can't just mail it in.

My lovely and litigious better half looked at this as an opportunity. "You have to be at court anyway," said she, "so plead innocent!" I pondered this for a moment. "You can probably get the charge reduced." Maybe Rita was right.

On the day of my court appearance, I arose early and timed it so I would get to the court house a little early. But I start out at the wrong courthouse. Hard to believe but there are two local courthouses in tiny Princeton.  There is a Princeton Township court and a Princeton Borough court. I went to the Township court. Oops. Damn. Now I had to hustle over the Borough court house.

Traffic wasn't horrible as I proceed across town to arrive at the correct court. There is a sizable parking lot adjacent to the court I notice...but not large enough. There are no spaces available. I become more nervous now..I am a little late and have no place to leave the car. Suddenly a parking space appears.  Except it's marked "Permit Only Parking." Yikes. There is no where else. I pulled in. It occurs to me that the reason I am here in the first place is illegal parking. Now I am illegally parking in the Borough Courthouse/Police station. Have I become a monster .. a Serial Parker?

I lock the car and hope that they don't tow here.

I go into the court house and take my seat in a very packed courtroom. There are many desperate looking characters of all sizes, shapes and types, young and old. I see some cheap suits also. Obviously, some of my fellow law breakers have lawyered up. There must be 100 people here.

The judge arrives. He looks like everyone's uncle. I am guessing that looking kindly yet stern when he had to be is a major qualification for getting elected to Judge to a municipal court.

The prosecutor, a man who is as red-faced as can be, with a sport coat 2 sizes too small and a tie from the 1970s, begins the role call of perpetrators. Most of the perps are here, yet amazingly, a good number are not. Who would skip town over a traffic court appearance?

A couple of the absentees have sent friends or relatives in their stead. One of these indicates that her cousin and gone back to Mexico and is never coming back. "Oh," says Uncle Judge. "Case dismissed." Hmmm. I wonder if I should have asked Rita to go and indicate I went back to Poland? 

At last role call is finished and now we are going to the pleading part. Again, the prosecutor calls out the names one by one but now reveals the charges. There are some tough looking hombres here. One is charged with going through a stop sign, and yet another desperado apparently drove recklessly. Yet another didn't have proof of insurance. Some plead guilty and were immediately "sentenced" to pay a fine. Others plead "innocent" and will stand trial immediately after all the pleads were entered. On and on the pleading went.

Finally, my name is called with the charge of "one count of parking in a handicapped space." I approach the bench and feel like a thousand eyes are burning holes in the back of my head. I can hear people thinking how low could anyone go to steal a primo parking spot from handicapped citizens?

My plan to plead innocent-- to get a lower penalty -- is abandoned now. I don't want to stand up here any longer than I have to and I don't want to wait for the trial that will follow. I can't stand to go through the whole role call again. "How do you plead?" says Uncle Judge. "Guilty" I say. "But I want to make a statement for the record!" The judge looks a little surprised, and maybe a little miffed. There are a lot of people in this courtroom. But he nods yes.

I bravely state that this handicapped space is not clearly marked and does not have any indication of 'handicapped' only on the parking meter itself. Isn't is supposed to be blue?

I am floored when Uncle Judge agrees! "In fact," Uncle says, "I even have photos of this space because it is the most notorious handicapped spot in Princeton." He waves a binder with photos at me. He actually looks proud.  What is this, I think?  Parking entrapment?  The opposite of a speed trap? Mistrial my brain is screaming!  I object! YOU ARE OUT OF ORDER! YOU CAN'T STAND THE TRUTH!

Collecting myself, I timidly suggest that the spot be more clearly and appropriately marked. He actually says, for the record, "I am not a sign or parking meter painter.," Uncle Judge's eye twinkles. "Write a letter to the Princeton Safety Board" he advises. OBJECTION I SCREAM IN MY HEAD.

"OK," said I, meekly.

I slither away from the bench, and then slink out of the courtroom. I pay the fine at the clerk's office. I am now wondering if I received a citation for parking in the courts reserved space.Is this another trap?   Would I have to go through this again next week?

Tune in next time!

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