All Potential Fathers, Please Stand Up

The counties in which I work may be small in population, but our courthouses are large in their history and stand rather regal in our rural towns.

courthouse 2We have over the last few years begun to designate certain days of the week for certain types of court hearings.  Monday, for instance, may be traffic day when all the traffic cases from parking tickets to DUIs are heard.  Tuesday may be the day that all the felony cases are before the judge.  Wednesday may be civil cases such as divorce or probate or small claims.  All the counties in my circuit have done or are perfecting this regulated system of scheduling court cases on certain days.

Of coucourtroom joke 1rse, we are a circuit in a rural area, therefore, we don’t have the volume of cases that a city or bigger town may have.  Everyone knows each other in most of the counties, and although things are run professionally, we are just friendlier with everyone from defendants to their lawyers.

That doesn’t mean we don’t have some high profile cases or some heinous cases or even some very busy days.  It does mean we have some downright hilarious incidences.

One such particular incident happened a few years back when we still had a variety of cases on the docket for that day.  There was a room full of people waiting their turn, watching the proceedings until their own cases were called.  courtroom audience

At the particular moment we were having a paternity hearing with the mother sitting at counsel table along with two putative fathers also sitting at the table.  The case had been before the Court on several other occasions since she had already named some men who had been dismissed from the proceedings for one reason or another.

She was a likeable gal, someone in the community the attorneys and the judge knew, a bit of a rounder perhaps.  She had several children but tried as best she could to take care of them. courtroom judge 2 Before beginning the hearing, the judge looked at her and ever so kindly said, “Ms. So-and-So, are there any other prospective fathers you want to name?” 

Ms. So-and-So turns around to the gallery and looks at all the men seated there.  She then says, “Yeah, maybe him,” and points to a gentleman sitting in the pew, waiting to have his case called.

courtroom surprised man

His surprised response — “I’m just here for a traffic case!”  — didn’t keep him from being asked to come up and sit at the counsel table to be a part of the putative father hearing.

His shock lingered throughout the hearing.

It was hilarious.court reporter laughing

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Just Try Saying It In The Mirror

all over the streets of New York City

I had no idea midgets were everywhere in the streets of New York City.  At least that was the story our state’s attorney was telling me this morning.  He stepped on one, he said.

He went to New York City last week for a little get-away.  Being a nice guy, he took his mom with him.  He said, “I hadn’t even walked on the streets of New York City before I stepped on a midget and turned my ankle.”   Uh, say what?  The visual of him stepping on a midget was just amazing.  (I might add here that I refer to small people as just that, small or little people.  That may be politically incorrect as well, but I’m pretty sure they would rather not be referred to as midgets.  I may be wrong.)

I said, “A midget?”  And he says, “Yes.  A midget.  I told Mom I hadn’t even walked the streets of New York City and I had already stepped on a midget.”

He didn’t seem to be too concerned about the little person.  I suppose since he had twisted his ankle and was apparently in pain.

I just couldn’t wrap my head around him stepping on a midget.  So once again, I asked, “A midget?”  And he says, “Yes, they’re everywhere?”

Whoa!  Hold up!  Was there some kind of convention of little people going on?  I was now visualizing little people so thick in the streets of NYC that a person could hardly walk for them.

Incredulous, I repeated, “Midgets?!??!”

That’s when he slapped his hand over his mouth to keep from guffawing out loud since we were in the courtroom with some minor court proceedings going on.  Which is, of course, the very reason for the mix-up.   In our conscientious effort to be quiet as we were talking about New York City, he was mouthing pigeons, and I was mouthing midgets.  Just as he realized I was saying midgets, I realized he was saying pigeons!

They're EVERYWHERE!!!!

And that’s when I had to jump up and exit the courtroom by the back door before I broke into belly laughing.  I laughed so hard in the clerk’s office that I cried.

So go stand in front of the mirror and mouth pigeons and then mouth midgets.  See what I mean?

This is the ONLY pic I could find to show you what I mean... sigh


The Mystery Juror

The front of the courthouse -- notice all the offices have window air conditioning units. The courtroom had none.

In my little section of the world life is slow.  We speak slowly (most not as slowly as I do); we move slowly (except when we drive); and we pretty well let things move along at their own pace.  We’re okay with that.

Our jury trials are no exception to that rule.  If you’ve read any of my posts before, then you know I am a court reporter working in small counties, and we have some interesting experiences around here.  Reporting proceedings on the fender of a car was a rather unique experience that I posted in Fender Reporting.  

On one such particular day in the summer where the wind was barely moving and the back doors were open to try to get a cross breeze through to the front doors that were also open, we had a jury of 14 people sitting in the cramped jury box.  The air was thick, and we were all sticky.  When a fly would land on my fingers, that were moving rapidly, it just sat there, stuck on  my sweaty hand, enjoying the ride apparently.  I had to take my hand and literally sling the thing off of me.  (I really hate flies.)

Since it was so hot, the attorneys were without jackets, and I had taken to wearing sundresses and sandals.  It was way too muggy for hose and what-have-you.  We were a stinky lot.

And that must have been what attracted him.  He sauntered in through the back doors and down the hallway, stopped and looked into the courtroom.  I saw him, but didn’t think he would actually come in the courtroom.

But he did.  He came and placed all four big, black paws that were connected to his big, black Lab body right beside my chair and stared at me.  Now, I sit almost in the jury’s lap, so the dog and I were at the edge of the jury box.  My thought processing was in high gear.  “Do I say anything about a big, black dog being in the jury box?”  “Is anyone in the jury box afraid of dogs?”  

In my great wisdom I decided to leave it be.  The proceedings were going full strength, and I just really couldn’t find a stopping point to say something to the judge.  As long as he didn’t start licking me, I decided he would just mosey on out in a bit.

Ah, such great smelly stuff here!

But he didn’t.  Instead he started sauntering down into the jury box.  And, of course, all eyes and attention was on the dog.  He was stopping to sniff first one and then another.  After all, he had found the stinky mother lode.  Would he want to jump in one of their laps to roll in the delightful stinkiness?  

The attorneys and judge had no idea this dog scenario was going on, and they continued on with their questioning while the jury was undoubtedly not paying attention to anything but the dog.  My wee brain was once again in high gear.  “Is anyone afraid of the dog?”  “Do I say something?”  “Does it matter the jury is missing out on the evidence by dog disruption?”  “Will it bite if someone makes a sudden movement?”

In my great wisdom I finally said to our judge, “Excuse me, Your Honor.  There’s a big, black dog in the jury box.”

The judge turned from the bench and looked at me and smiled.  I again said, “There’s a big, black dog in the jury box.”  And he says, “You’re kidding, right?”

SAY WHAT?  Am I kidding?  I stop the proceedings of a jury trial to make a joke about a dog?  Now I wonder what he would have done if I had said, “Yeah, isn’t that a great one?”

But I didn’t.  I merely said, “No, really.  There’s a big, black Lab disrupting the jury.”

similar to our Juror Blackie

And about that time, as if to bear witness to the truth I had just spoken, Blackie (as I now call him) sauntered out of the jury box and into the bar area, slowly made his way down the aisle to the front doors, and went on his way.  As we all, transfixed, watched.

I am just grateful Blackie did not think I smelled “good” enough to lick or try to roll around on.

Death in the Parking Lot: Expect the Unexpected

Gallatin County Courthouse

My job sometimes scares me.  I’m an official court reporter working in small counties with small courthouses.  The problems that bring people to these small courthouses are just as big as other places and just as important to them as the problems in bigger, more congested, areas.  And these problems cause just as much angst and anger among the parties involved.

One such person killed himself this week in the parking lot of one of the courthouses where I work once a week.  His hearing for a modification of child support was set for the afternoon.  Our court security officer was coming back from lunch a little later since the morning session had gone on longer than expected.  As he walked from his car through the parking lot, he noticed a man sitting in his car and then heard the door shut as the man apparently got out of his vehicle.  By that time the officer was already walking up the ramp to the back door.

Within five minutes of him walking past the man in the car, another man came running into the back door of the courthouse, yelling that someone had just shot himself in the head right outside.   The two security officers ran outside.  Within a few feet of the walkway to the back door the unidentified man lay dead.

What had caused this man to take his own life in that parking lot?

Everyone can only surmise; there is no real knowing.  Was he intending to kill his wife and daughter who had already gone upstairs for the hearing?  Was he lying in wait for the attorney to come back downstairs and out the door to get in his car?  Was he planning to come in the courthouse, shoot the officer at the door, then make his way up the stairs to the courtrooms?  Had he decided, perhaps, he couldn’t accomplish getting in and getting whatever deed done that he had planned after seeing the officer?

It’ scary thinking of any of those scenarios… even the one that actually occurred:  the taking of his own life in the parking lot where everyone parks for work.

The sheriff’s department says this is a wake-up call.  Be more vigilant.  Expect the unexpected.

September 11, 2001

Doug Kanter picture of man standing amid rubble of World Trade Center

Yahoo has an article called “The 25 Most Powerful Photos.”  Life.com has compiled photos and stories of the events of 9/11.  Please try to find time in your busy day to look at these photos and reflect back on that day in our not-too-distant history.  They are powerful, and I have cried once again remembering that day.  My heart is broken once again for those people on the airplanes and in the buildings and for New York City.  My heart is heavy for the families and friends and co-workers left behind.  My amazement and awe of the first responders who willing risked and gave their lives to bolt into the danger is staggering: what heroes, true heroes.

The morning of September 11, 2001, was a day I worked in Carmi.  As I was driving along the road, the news of what was occurring came across the radio.  My mind just couldn’t comprehend the words; it couldn’t be true.  As soon as I arrived in town, I ran into the courthouse to see if the radio was wrong; surely it was wrong!  All morning we stood and watched a small television in the courtroom.  No one could think; we were numb.

That night, sitting on the couch, I watched the news and cried and cried and cried.  I still cry when I think of that day.  I am still amazed when I recall those heroes.

Fender Reporting

It was a nice, sunny, summer day; not too hot; just right for a jury trial in our little rural circuit.  We had the jury all seated in the courtroom that would hold at least a hundred spectators if they so chose to come and watch the proceedings.  The courtroom was designed back in the day when people would do just that for entertainment:  come and sit in, listen to the proceedings, then proceed to go out and discuss the events as they sat around the town square on a Saturday night, taking a break to sit on one of the benches and chat in their weekly “going to town” for provisions trip.

The courtroom was also the place to be on election night, watching the numbers written and rewritten on the paper that was taped to the wall, going the full length of the wall, as new voting numbers were tallied then changed as precincts sent in their totals.  The place would be packed on those nights, seats full as well as people standing around the sides of the courtroom, spilling out into the hallways, leaning over the balconies from the open double doors on the second floor; 12 in all, allowing the upper hallway to be fully exposed.

car crash

But today’s jury trial wasn’t anything spectacular, a car wreck, more of a fender bender actually.  So there weren’t any observers.  This made it that much easier for all of us to file out to the road to view the damages to the car.  No observers to follow along, just the 13 jurors, the judge, and me with my writer.

Stenograph Diamante

There were plenty of cars lining the road, all the jurors parked for their civil duty, so I had a nice fender to sit on while I took down the proceedings.

Today I use a shorthand machine, writer, that doesn’t use paper, all computerized with the proceedings all saved on a little disk about as big as my thumb.  Back those several years ago, my writer used paper that rolled from bottom to top and lay in a tray awaiting storage and/or transcription.  As I was sitting on the fender of the vehicle, an automobile of some sort (glad it wasn’t a truck; the tailgate would be way too high), with my machine in front of me, I was furiously writing Q&A with comments thrown in occasionally by the judge.  Q&A in the reporting world is an attorney asking questions and a witness answering.  All was going well until the breeze.

A slight breeze blew up, I’m sure giving everyone a nice “Ah” moment… except me.  When the breeze blew, so did my paper.  Until the rain.  Now, even drops of rain will cause ink to run and smear.  So as the occasional raindrop fell, I would check to see how it had affected my notes.  Okay.  A small smear here or there, nothing I couldn’t figure out later on if I needed to.  Then it really began to sprinkle.  Hmmm.  No one but me noticing this little rain shower heading our way?     Business as usual.

I guess we would have continued the trial in the rain had I not eventually spoke up and told the judge the rain was causing the ink on my notes to smear, and if we didn’t go back in, I wouldn’t be able to read them later.   As if that was the catalyst to cause everyone to notice their surroundings, the judge agreed, and everyone hightailed it back to the courtroom.  Just in time.

♪♪Waking Up Is Hard To Do! Woe, Wooooe, Woe-oe♪♪

Court personnel never know what kind of unique situation, clothing ensemble (or lack thereof), funny comments, or intriguing people we will come in contact with on any given day.  Most of the time it’s just business as usual, run-of-the-mill day.  But some days… it’s just worth being there.

sleeping attorney

The day the attorney was thrown in jail for being drunk was just such a day.  It was obvious he wasn’t at his top performance since he was sitting at counsel table falling asleep.

big big book

So when the judge came back in from recess, and slammed a big, thick statute book down on the bench, and the sleeping attorney never even twitched, we were all standing/sitting with our jaws hanging open.  The eyes of his poor little client, which were already big and round with uncertainty, (he, coming from the north down to Podunkville and not knowing what to expect) (the movie Deliverance comes to mind) got even bigger and rounder.

round-eyed client

Ms. Public Defender, who was seated next to Mr. Incapacitated-At-The-Moment Attorney, was requested by the judge to wake up our offending attorney.  She takes her finger and pokes his arm several times until he eventually in a sleepy stupor raises his head and looks toward her.

Ms. Public Defender then takes that same finger and slowly points it and her outstretched arm toward the front of the courtroom at the judge as Mr. Incapacitated-At-The-Moment follows her movement and eventually makes eye contact with our judge at the bench.  The judge called him to the bench for the “have-you-been-drinking” discussion whereupon the attorney adamantly declared his innocence, not a drop of alcohol had passed his lips today, although he did lean in a little closer to say, “But I really tied one on last night.”

Mr. I-Tied-One-On-Last-Night

After consenting to a breath analysis, and blowing a .06 (legally intoxicated is .08), the sheriff’s deputy brings Mr. Getting-More-Alert-All-The-Time back into the courtroom before His Honorable.  The lecture was, as succinctly as I can put it, “You’re going to jail; don’t show up like this again.”

da judge

So having been found in contempt of court, off Mr. Boy-Did-I-Screw-Up go, never once making eye contact with his young, round-eyed client.