Baptism by fire

Before the start of every docket, I said a little prayer.

I prayed that that the judge would be patient with me, I prayed that an officer wouldn’t complain to my supervisor for dropping his case, I prayed that no one would notice that I accidentally wore navy pants with a black blazer because I dressed myself in the dark, but most of all I prayed that the defense attorneys wouldn’t be able to expose how little I knew.

I was working out my traffic docket fairly well. It helped that all the defendants wanted to plead guilty in front of this particular judge because he rarely sent anyone to jail.

A third-time DUI offender who had struck another vehicle was pleading guilty now and was asking the judge for no jail time.

“Well, it is your third offense and you really ought to see the inside of a jail cell,” the judge said. “I’ll tell you what, I’ll sentence you to a weekend in jail and you can pick your weekend. How about that?”

The judge propped his elbows up on the bench as leaned his chin on his clasped hands. He looked at the defendant adoringly like an 80 year-old cherub.

I wanted to ask the defendant if he wanted liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti waiting for him when he turned himself in for his weekend of incarceration. There were two bailiffs guarding the front of the courtroom. I darted a look at one, who was rolling his eyes at the judge. The other one was passed out from sheer excitement. He was using his chest as a pillow and snored himself awake as I was ready to call the next case.

I looked over at the rest of my files on my table and noticed a DUI file in the trial pile. It was a weak case for the state. But it was the defendant’s second DUI, and dropping it was out of the question. The defendant refused to take the Intoximeter test and his field sobriety performance was not terrible despite his preliminary breath test reading of 0.18.

I conducted my direct examination of the arresting officer. There were so many technical questions to ask about the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the field sobriety test, and the officer’s training and experience in DUIs. I froze. I had a more senior assistant state’s attorney step in and feed me some questions.

“Objection, Your Honor! When the water gets a little above the state’s head, she doesn’t then get to call in the varsity!”

The devil had disguised himself as a defense attorney.

“Oh…I think you can handle it,” the judge said with an angelic tone.

“Your Honor, this isn’t moot court! Come on!”

I was in purgatory for the duration of the state’s case. I managed to trudge through the rest of the testimony and rested my case. I looked over at the attorney who stood up. I thought I saw a red, darted tail snake out of his pinstriped suit.

“I was going to call a defense witness,” the attorney said, “but I’m not going to even dignify the state’s case with any evidence.”

The judge found the defendant not guilty. The bailiff handed the defendant some paperwork to sign.

“All right, just put your John Hancock right there,” the attorney bellowed. “Now I want you to tell all your friends at the barber shop what I did for you today, mmm-kay?”

It was as if the demon within him was exorcised and the sweet Emily Rose in him emerged. The attorney swaggered over to me, shook my hand, and evaporated from the courtroom with his client.

The bailiff locked the doors behind him and shook his head.

“I can’t stand that guy,” he said.

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