I have spent my share of time sitting in the Warren County Justice Center courtrooms and am always interested in the cross-section of humanity who ends up there. Some of them, like me, are family victims of a range of travesties. Others are family or friends there to support the travesty-committers. And others are there to clear their names of something they did or didn’t do. I suppose there’s a small minority of people who are there for entertainment.
This week when I was there, the docket was full (as usual), so we had some time to wait, and I recorded this observation:
In court, the same scene as always. In front of us lawyers talking (some with normal volume, some in hushed tones while leaning into someone’s ear). They lean across the table or pace back and forth. One is talking about an unreliable witness who keeps changing her story, something about blood tests in Cincinnati. Another is joking behind a cupped hand. Their constant motion makes it difficult to hear the judge–the charges, the responses, the consequences. Sometimes the lawyers all stop, seemingly of one accord, and then I know that something interesting is going down. My son leans over and whispers, “They all look like douche bags.”
I am sitting three rows back in a sea of rows–10 long rows with an aisle down the middle, about 10 or so on each side, a capacity of 200. The t-shirt on the man in front of me reads: Sturgis: Home of the Full Throttle Saloon. The artwork is red, grey, and black–two skulls face each other screaming, their brows furrowed as if they are enraged. Wings lift from their exposed temples. Beneath the image it says, FTS x World’s Largest Biker Bar x. To his right, Kentucky Speedway July 9, 2000 – History Starts Now.
Behind me a woman with receding lips and I’m guessing no teeth is talking normal volume, complaining, along with the two people, a man and a woman, who sit next to her nodding and chiming in. (I catch glimpses now and then as I look around.) People are more fully clothed this time than last. Perhaps because it’s a cool day. Judge Wilson has not yelled at anyone for disrespecting his course, and not dressing in their “Sunday best,” at least yet.
Most of the people stepping up to the podium (with or without an accompanying attorney) are white. One grandmotherly woman pleads guilty to taking over $10,000 from her church. She was the treasurer and it was apparently too much temptation. Most others are white men–except when the orange suits are brought in. One is a white woman, one or two white men, but 5-6 are black men. One of them saunters and leers, and I’m surprised the Judge Wilson does not call him out, as I’ve seen him do this many times. Once he must have been unusually sensitive or cranky, because he yelled at at least 10 people who came up–pants around their knees, tube tops falling off boobs. I had to admit that it was a lot of not very good eye candy.
The Commonwealth’s Attorney in Warren County tells us that there are two kinds of people, those who give to the community and those who take, and he deals with the latter. Such a job must necessarily skew one’s view of humanity. I guess all our views are skewed. Most people are stupid, I hear. Most people are good at heart. Most people only care about Number 1. Add a modifier here and there, and all kinds of trouble begins. Most people in Court are —-. Most people arrested are —–. Most men who sag . . . most women who dress like —-s are…
I try not to judge these people I don’t know. Meeting that old white woman on the street, I’d never think, “There goes a thief.” Would I if it were one of those Black men in orange? Here in this setting, it’s hard to think that they’re all innocent until . . .
And yet, we hear Judge Wilson say over and over, “The right to a jury is the highest principle we hold.” He says to each person who pleads guilty–and there are a lot today–the same thing: “What is your level of education? Are you under the influence of drugs or alcohol? Do you have a mental condition that would prevent you from understanding? You have a right to a trial. You do not have to plead against yourself. And if a jury finds you guilty, you have a right to an appeal.” Then, after reading off the agreement: “Is this what Atty —- has said to you? Are you satisfied with the counsel you have received? As anyone offered you money or promised you anything for this plea? Are you certain that this is in your best interests?”
All of them, including the grandmother, respond, “High school [or 10th grade or 3rd grade]. No, no. Yes, yes, no, yes.”
There is more, but this is Courtroom B, Warren County, July 22, 2013.