Friday, August 21, 2009

The Inappropriate Magistrate

One day in July I was taking my usual highway to work. Only it was closer to 11. Blue skies, open road... do you see where this is going?

I was going fast (though not as fast as the man in blue said) and found myself in traffic 'night' court today. I say 'night' because it starts at 4:30. It was a pretty interesting cross section of our city, a little bit of everyone and with a fashion display that was just as interesting.

The setup is something like this: all of the people with our appointment time go into a somewhat sad looking courtroom, sitting in what would usually be the gallery. A bailiff calls roll, tells the men to remove hats, talks some more. The magistrate comes in, lets us know we can plead guilty/not guilty, going to real court if we plead not guilty. Plea bargains from the city attorney are also thrown in.

I promise I'm getting to a point.

So we sit and watch, listening to the charges, plea bargains, and sometimes stories of those that go before us. The judge calls a guy named JC up. Goes through the rigmarole and JC pleads guilty to the plea bargain. JC's full name is one of those names that sounds familiar in this town. A name of some big wig from before my time.

The judge asks JC if his father had the same name and he said no, his father was an EC as he starts to walk to the 'wait for the bailiff to hand you your bill bench.' The the magistrate, having distracted himself with his question, says 'Oh, Mr. JC, your fine is $201, though you look like you're pretty wealthy so that shouldn't be a problem for you.'

At this point my mouth literally fell open. Now Mr. JC, unlike 2/3 of the people in the courtroom, was dressed nicely. Guy's dress pants with a crease down the middle, polished dress shoes, a polo, and a pretty watch. His look reminded me of those offices where casual Friday requires dry clean only pants. So I guess when compared to the guy with paint splattered jeans with 5 holes, he looked like he has money.

But where on earth does a magistrate get the right to judge someones wealth? Especially in the current economy where we've learned that sometime the appearance of wealth is just that, an appearance. After my turn at the mike I sat beside JC. I gave him a look and he just shook his head. We shared our disbelief for a moment before he got called up for his payment slip.

I followed close behind, walking myself to the payment plan office. I didn't have my favorite cards with me, and if I'm going to be paying the city $200 I may as well get some airline miles out of it. I've also considerably slowed my roll, no matter how perfect the driving conditions may seem.

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