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The peaNUT gallery

I woke up early on Monday morning to paint my face for court. I wore a tuxedo suit from Brooks Brothers, a crisp, white, collared shirt and glossy, red lipstick.

At 8:30 a.m. the audience filtered in to the benched seating. Five minutes before the judge took the bench, the gallery was told to turn off all cell phones. With two knocks on the door, the judge promptly entered as the patrons stood.

I called a pro se plea. When I had given the defendant the option of either pleading guilty or having a trial, he told me he wanted to plead guilty to disorderly conduct “with an explanation.” That typically means the plea is likely to fall apart because his explanation isn’t by way of mitigation at sentencing, but rather an explanation for why he is not guilty.

In this case, an officer had responded to a call of an intoxicated male who was walking in the middle of the road and into oncoming traffic.

Upon calling the case for a plea, the defendant proceeded to explain that he was being loud and disorderly because the officer searched him and found his prescription pills. According to the defendant, the officer stole his drugs. And the defendant was protesting the confiscation of his belongings.

“OK, sir, it doesn’t sound like you think you’re guilty,” the judge said. “You can have a trial if you want. State, are you ready to proceed?”“Yes, the state calls Officer Jones to the stand,” I said.

The officer proceeded to explain that the defendant had been yelling and screaming at people on the street and causing a disturbance.

“Nah, man, I was just mad you took my meds!” the defendant interjected.

“Sir, you’ll have a chance to talk in a minute,” the judge said.

“But he took all my sh**!”

I turned around and saw audience members nudging each other in amusement. I scanned the rows and noticed a homeless man sitting alone. He was a regular observer, often checking in for his cases that actually weren’t scheduled that day. He was cited almost weekly for drinking in public and he could never get his trial dates straight. The bailiff shooed him away.

“But I got a citation here!” he roared, as he waved a packet of crumpled, green citations in the bailiff’s face. The bailiff told him to get out of the courtroom or else.

In the front row, closest to me, was a defense attorney who sat straight up like an ostrich, chin to neck. He was an older man with an affinity for younger, female prosecutors, often inviting them to take bike rides along the mountain side. He zeroed in on me and flashed a Cheshire cat grin. His teeth were ground down so short that there was more gum than teeth in his smile.

The judge gave the defendant the opportunity to speak after the state rested

“Aight, this cop took my diabetes medicine and here he lyin’ and tryin’ to make a name for himself!” the defendant said.

There was an uproar of laughter coming from the gallery.

“OK, sir. You’re not helping yourself,” the judge said. “You’re here on a disorderly conduct charge and you’re acting out of control.”

“Look, I was disorderly!” he admitted. “I’m guilty! But it’s only because that cop threw my meds away!”

The judge looked at the officer who was now seated with other members of the audience. The officer sheepishly stood up and explained that he didn’t throw the defendant’s medication away but rather entered them into evidence.

“All right, I’ve heard enough, sir,” the judge said. “I’m going to find you guilty.”

The judge imposed a suspended sentence and the bailiff ushered the defendant to the front row.

There was a soft murmur from the gallery from those commiserating quietly about the outcome of the case.

“Hello, my dear, how are you?”

Mr. Cheshire had sneaked up behind me.

“Fine, thanks,” I replied.

“You look better than that!” he said. “The weather this weekend is going to be perfect for a bike ride along Sugarloaf Mountain.”

He grinned with his mouth slightly agape. I could feel him breath heavily. He was missing collar stays, so his shirt collar curled up at the end. His tie was half knotted and almost coming undone. There were ink stains on his suit.

I quickly looked down and scanned the table for a case to call. I was getting hit on by a man old enough to be my grandfather.

Found one! It was a dinky alcohol citation, but it would do.

“State v. Marvin Seymour. Calling the case for trial,” I said.

I looked around and the defendant was no where to be found, even though he had checked in this morning.

A bailiff stood up and motioned towards me.

“Uh, if he was the homeless guy sitting in the back row, he’s long gone by now.”

One comment

  1. Who’s this Cheshire guy? I want to meet him and his ground down teeth.