February 01, 2007

My day in court

To be honest, most of my court-related experience to date has been with the food court in a variety of America's malls. I've served jury duty a couple of times, and I contested a transit ticket in Brooklyn once, but otherwise my life hasn't really intersected with the legal system all that much.

Last night I got to go to a real life Night Court, attending the hearing for a claim I filed in Small Claims Court against a former vendor who has refused to pay me for the last four months of freelance work I did for them. I was a little intimidated and probably waited longer than I should have to file the claim, but once I got there, I stopped being scared and started to have fun. I swear I was sitting next to Vinny Parco of Court TV's Parco PI fame, and when they were calling out all the names of the other claimants and defendants, we were totally cracking up (I mean, "Tuck It Away"?! PLEASE).They led dozens of us into a big courtroom like you see on TV, big pew-like benches, high ceilings, "IN GOD WE TRUST" on the facing wall...

I got called into a hearing with an arbitrator, and since the defendant didn't show up, he held an inquest to hear my side of the case...As someone who seriously considered attending law school and who wishes Henninger had a debate team, I really got a kick out of presenting my evidence and opening and closing arguments all in one fell swoop. I sort of wish I got to have my case heard in the actual courtroom full of people rather than in a private little office, but this way was far less nerve-wracking.

My arbitrator was a weird little man who said hilarious sarcastic stuff with the most deadpan face, never making eye contact with me, but I think he got my side of the story. Unfortunately, I have to wait two weeks for my judgment to be mailed to me, and even if it's in my favor I still have to figure out how to collect the money I'm owed, but this all feels good.

I like participating in the legal system. I've never deferred jury duty, and have shown up 2 or 3 times in both Brooklyn and Manhattan. The last time, of course, I was that person who asked a question during the voir dire that ended up getting nearly every juror dismissed because I basically shattered the defense's case. I was actually kind of bummed that I didn't get to serve on an actual trial, but I'm sure I will at some point in my life.

When I contested my transit ticket in Brooklyn 5 or 6 years ago, I was ready to defend my case with great flourish, but I didn't really get the chance. I'd been ticketed at Union Square for evading fare because I let some guy, whose Metrocard said "JUST USED" because he swiped it too many damn times, double-up with me in a vertical turnstile. We got busted by a plain-clothes transit cop and both got ticketed. In retrospect I don't really remember what my defense would have been, but at the time I was unemployed and had the time to go to court (and DIDN'T have the money to pay the ticket) so I figured what the hey.

Fortunately for me, I didn't have to say anything. They threw the case out because the ticket said I was seen "attempting" to evade fare but not that I actually evaded it. Hooray for technicalities! I love the law. This other story is just like mine, with a different happy ending.

The one thing about the legal system this time around for me is that if the judgment is in my favor, the defendant can choose to re-open the case if they had a good reason to not show up last night. But that's OK, that just means last night was a trial run and I get to present my case even better next time.

I've always said I've wanted to be a woman of many careers. Maybe attorney is still down the road for me...

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