Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Petty tyranny

I was in municipal court the other day for a client who had a commercial driver's license and had received a speeding ticket. My client was supposed to be in court at 8:00 a.m. I made it about 15 minutes later.

I called my client's name. There was no answer from the audience. Our first sign of trouble.

Then Judge Mihoa Vo took the bench. Ms. Vo had been a defense attorney practicing in the municipal courts when I first started. Then, a couple of years ago, she was hired as a municipal court judge.

Now this is important because as an attorney she would have had to deal with clients who came in late whether that be because of traffic or because they slept in. There are some judges who will hold off on issuing a warrant if the defendant's attorney answers the docket and there are others who will issue a warrant if the defendant walks in right after the call of the docket.

The first call of the docket took place before I arrived. The judge gave her speech about being on time and proceeded to make the late call. Sure enough, when she got to my client's name there was no answer. So I answered that counsel was present.

I immediately sent a test message to my client asking him where he was. He replied that he was downstairs at the metal detectors (and don't get me started on why we need metal detectors in the municipal courthouse) and that he would be right up.

After the late call I approached the bench and informed the judge that my client was on his way upstairs and she told me that we were more than welcome to try to work the case out but that he was still late. In other words our choice was either to plead or post a bond. We were both there. The officer may or may not have been there. There was no reason to force everyone to do it all over again.

Except, of course, the money. Make it difficult. Make it inconvenient. Anything to coerce the defendant to enter a plea of no contest and take his deferred probation to keep the ticket off his record. Collect that money and move on to the next case.

Trials are time consuming and cost money. It's best to head them off at the pass

Downtown at the criminal courthouse things work a bit differently - and, of course, it all depends on who's sitting behind the raised desk in the black robe. Miss the docket call in misdemeanor or felony court and you may be asked to sit in the jury box all morning. You might be asked to sit there until your attorney arrives. The judge may tell you not to be late again or your bond will be forfeited. Hell, I've had clients who just flat out never showed up on their court date and we were able to reinstate their bonds if they appeared before the judge the next morning.

It's just another example of the maxim that the less significant the piece of turf, the more tyrannical the overseer. Judge Vo didn't have to issue the warrant. I was there. My client was on his way up the stairs. But she wanted my client to know that she had the authority to issue a warrant. She had to keep up appearances - after all, it would never do for people to look upon the municipal courts as a cash collection agency for the city, would it?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The judge's motivation is immaterial. Your client did not get to court on time, and it is not the metal detector's fault. Exceptions are not the rule, and to expect one but not get one is hardly tyranny.