I was in court not so long ago. It was the first time in a month or so that I'd set foot in the criminal courthouse. Funny how quickly the lunacy fades. And even more amazing perhap--how quickly it rushes back. The particular case I was handling was a sort of watered down DV case--the kind of thing that shouldn't have come to court in the first place. The right disposition of the case is what's known in New York as an "ACD" or an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal. It basically means that after a period of six months or a year (for family offenses and marijuana cases), the case is dismissed and the record is sealed theoretically returning the client to status quo ante.

Now without boring you with the details, suffice to say, I got the ACD. Moreover the prosecutor and I agreed that the term of the ACD should be six months rather than a year (this being possible because there was a non-family offense on the docket). The motion was made, the application granted the record of the 6 months term abundantly clear. And then, my client and I sat down for the usual "wait for the paperwork." Now normally when I was a PD, I didn't have time to sit around and wait for the paperwork, so I'd just leave clients waiting there and would tell them to come to the office if they had questions--then I'd dash off to whatever emergency was next on the hit list. But with my new lazy writing life and minimal practice, these days I've got all the time in the world to wait around, and so wait I did.

An hour and 40 minutes later, the clerk calls my client's name and up we go for him to sign off on the limited order of protection that will be in effect for the term of the ACD. Glancing down though, I saw that the clerk has indicated that the term is a year. So up I go, diffidently explaining that that's a mistake. "Talk to the judge" I'm told. Ok, I know the judge, he used to be up in the Bronx, no sweat. But then begins the long courtroom dance. First talk to the clerk, then the court officer, then another court officer, then the court officer talks to the judge, judge says ok, and it's time to start (once again) "waiting for the paperwork." This time the court breaks for lunch and we've got to come back at 2:15 (we've been there since 9:45).

2:15 comes and goes, and now, some three and a half hours after the case should have been done with, the clerk once again calls my client's name. Up we go. And yes, a new order of protection. This one inexplicably good until 2008. "Wrong year." I say, but by this time it's clear they're just messing with me. The clerk scribbles out the "08" and writes in "07" He doesn't initial anything and the whole page is mostly illegible at this point.

"What about the dispo sheet?" I ask, showing him the other page that still has "1 year" checked. "Oh, go ahead and change that." he tells me. "I can't change an official court document." I say. Disgusted he takes my copy and once again, just checks the other box (both are now checked). "What about the original?" I ask. "I'll do it later" he tells me firmly.

There's a rail between me and the clerk, and even if I wanted to go up and watch him change the original it would never have happened. So there I am, having spent an entire day just trying to get a simple disposition, and I have, except that the paperwork is all screwed up, and everyone seems pissed off at my reasonable request that we just do the paperwork right so that my clients isn't laboring under an order of protection for an extra six months, and all I can think is that there's no way this is going to get into the registry properly, and that at the end of the day, I'm going to have to order the minutes, go back to court and spend another entire day to fix what should have been done right in the first place. And all of a sudden the insanity of criminal court comes flooding back to me.

It's strange. It hasn't been that long, but still, I'd almost forgotten. And then, as I was contemplating the absurdity of the whole situation and the amount of time it was going to take to get a simple task done right, I actually thought to myself--someone should write a book about this crap. And then I remembered, I did. And it actually made me happy for a moment....

And speaking of the book...two nice things: First another really nice amazon review. I've almost never blogged about these (there are almost 50 reviews now) but every once and again when I go check them out, there's something really sweet and heartening that just makes me smile--the kind of reviews that talk about how the book has inspired someone or actually made them want to go and do the work. That, at the end of the day makes it all worth while. Also, neatly, I made a few Best Books Of The Year lists. A few more are here and here. That feels good...


Nicholas said...

You made my Books of the Year list too! (See third last para.)

Anonymous said...

I'm amazed too at how frustrating it can be to correct a simple mistake, or to deal with a clerk who cares everything for efficiency and nothing for effectiveness.

When I was trained as a P.D. in misdemeanors, I remember a bailiff telling me that I'd better be nice to her or things could go badly for my clients. I was baffled by this comment, coming, as I was, fresh out of law school. But I soon found it was true and I had to be extra nice to the bailiffs, as part of my advocacy for my clients. Otherwise, at best, we might be waiting around a long time, or, at worst, the "one year" box might be checked instead of "six months" as you described, resulting in hours worth of more work for me to fix it, not to mention those times when I had to leave early, for another hearing, and missed mistakes like this.

I was amazed, though, that my clients seemed used to this, as if they expected it from the "system." What's always sort of frightened me about this level of bureaucratical b.s. is JFK's famous remark that "those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable."

My clients got used to being herded like cattle through the court system, to being treated with contempt by the burnt out bureaucrats who seem to hold a lot of power, but that doesn't mean my clients don't also have suppressed rage at this treatment and at the "system" in general.

Anonymous said...

This kind of thing never happened to me in civil court - never. It seems judges and clerks respect the money, just like almost everybody else.
Well, also, in my jurisdiction, civil attorneys spend a great deal of energy buttering up the clerks, too.