Wayne County and the Justice Courts — Not Always a Good Combination

Needs a little work, eh? So does the Justice Court in this town. (Author’s Collection)

\\ DUH//  Ever wonder why being called a “315-er” is so insulting?  Well, we do have our share of trailer trash (and some of them don’t even live in trailers!) and lots of apples and grapes and potatoes and things, but I think what caps the phrase is what happens when a few of the natives get themselves some edjumication and then are turned loose  in the Justice Courts…

"What?? There's a '97 Saturn? With a short person driving it??? Where, Chief? OK, we're on the case!" "Let's go, boys! Corner of Slocum and Ridge --We gotta get her before she hits the Monroe County line!"

“What?? There’s a ’97 Saturn? With a short person driving it??? Where, Chief? OK, we’re on the case!” “Let’s go, boys! Corner of Slocum and Ridge –We gotta get her before she hits the Monroe County line!”

…which I know about firsthand, since I habitually and shamelessly violate the rights of The People of the State of New York by driving through their neighborhoods while being short.  In truth, short stature is terribly inconvenient, but it’s not a crime — not as long as your doctor writes you a medical exemption, that is, which you handily produce for Officer Friendly upon demand.  But what if you can’t find it, despite nervously rummaging through all the junk in your car that you now wish you had cleaned out yesterday? No matter, as long you “timely produce” a replacement to the Court, who will then dismiss the ticket — or so says Officer Friendly.   In fact, two of the Courts did just that, and one even apologized for it having gotten that far (but that was in Monroe County)…

"Nip it, right now...why, you let some old lady drive around town without a seat belt, and she'll soon be back with an even bigger crime...like contempt of court!"  (Wise words from Barney Fife and Google Images)

“Nip it, Judge, and nip it right now..if you let some old lady drive around town without a seat belt, she’ll soon be back with an even bigger crime…like contempt of court!” (Wise words from Barney Fife and Google Images)

…except that’s not how it works in one Wayne County town court, where a lawfully written medical exemption means nothing, even if produced on the very same day that Officer Friendly produced his ticket.  Law?  That judge don’t need no stinkin’ law!  All he needed was an overwhelmingly ignorant misinterpretation of VTL 1229 subsection 5 and the assistance of a churlish and plethoric prosecutor to meritriciously achieve justice for the duly offended People…and he did this before I even walked into the courthouse…

"It says right here [that you're guilty of not being short enough...] I'm reading it from the book, okay, so don't show me something you got off the Internet."  Transcript, p. 19 (Google Images and His Honorable Fred Gwynne)

“It says right here [that you’re guilty of not being short enough…] I’m reading it from the book [what book?], okay, so don’t show me something you got off the Internet.” (Google Images, Trial Transcript, and Fred Gwynne (“did you say, ‘yout’?”)…)

…because when I got there, I discovered I was guilty of two crimes —  being short, and (worse) wasting the Court’s time with a pro se defense.  NY VTL 1229c-7 be damned, I was doomed to be fined, even if the prosecutor had to lie about the evidence and the presiding justice had to create his own rogue law, which is exactly what they did — after, of course, after they discussed ex parte precisely how it should be done.

Was I surprised to find out that this judge is not a lawyer?   And that his “legal training” consists of an associate’s degree in accounting that he got 48 years ago from some farm school out in Cobleskill? and that the only courtroom experience he has is his own?  but has been sitting on a bench, making “legal” decisions that affect people’s lives for 27 years?  and STILL didn’t understand VTL 1229c-5 until I filed a motion (with case law citations and sworn affidavits appended thereto) that explained it to him???  Yeah, I was surprised all right, even more so when I found out that 72% of town justices statewide, at last count (2012) of the NY Magistrates Association) are making “lawful” decisions with a similar lack of legal training and experience.   Where I come from (which is a neighboring state, not another planet), this is called “practicing law without a license” and if you try it you will get arrested, jailed, and fined.   Wow, talk about Wayne County:  Land of Stupid…

How can you tell when a lawyer is lying...I think we ALL know that answer to that one... (Google Images)

No job?  No skills? No experience?  But a huge ego? And you look good in black?  No problem! (have I got a job for you…!)  (Google Images)

… but this isn’t just a Wayne County thing.  In each town or village in this State, about 1277 of them, there is a local “Justice Court” where you, too, can practice law without a license.  If collecting unemployment,  slinging hamburgers, working the farm, or sitting in a cube at Xerox has got you down and you are 18 or over, all you need are enough friends to vote for you and not the other guy. Or, forget all that and just find A Very Important Person to recommend you for an appointment. Then, you attend the next training course given by the New York State Unified Court System Office of Court Administration (OCA), where you spend all of 8 DAYS hearing all you need to hear about holding court.  After that they send you home with a “certification to assume the bench,” which, once filed in accordance with UJCA Section 105 (probably the only law you’ll ever want to know about, besides Section 77b, of course) entitles YOU to a courtroom of your very own!  Now’s the time to buy yourself a clean T-shirt (R U Diggin It?) or, if you really take yourself seriously, a black robe–the one you (or one of your kids) rolled up and stuck in a closet after graduating from high school a few years ago will do until you can bill the taxpayers for a nicer one…

"Hey, I know a courtroom that could use your money...here's a ticket -- gets you in for free, but you'll have to pay to get out..."  (Courtesy Google Images and Deputy T---y _P----tt).

“Hey, I know a courtroom that could use your money! So, here’s a ticket — this’ll get you in for free, but you’ll have to pay to get out…” (A public service announcement from Google Images and Wayne County’s very own Officer Friendly, a/k/a Deputy Sheriff T***y P****tt).

…Finally! After working so hard for 8 DAYS (well, more like 7-1/2, really) and filing your official “I-Went-To-Judge-School-And-All-I-Got-Was-This-Lousy-Certificate” certificate (suitable for framing) — voila!   You’re a judge!  presiding over your very own courtroom! where, clad in The Honorable Finery of Your Choice, you spend maybe 4-5 days a month adjudicating the local miscreants, most of whom are supplied to you by Officer Friendly, the rest being deadbeats who don’t pay their rent or who otherwise ripped off some law-abiding village resident to the tune of $3000 or less ($5000 or less for the townies).  After annoying them all, plaintiff and defendant alike, with your 8-day allocation of judicial wisdom, they leave the courthouse one by one, the traffic violators nursing their wounded wallets and the civil litigants grumbling about how the opposing party got off way too easy — but it’s all good, because it’s your courtroom!  where everyone calls you “Your Honor”! and stands up when you enter!  and does whatever you tell them!  and if the defendant pro se gets on Your Honorable Nerves, you can do things like roll up several pages of NY VTL 1229c and shake them at her while bellowing, “This is criminal court!  You’re a criminal now!”

Question for the OCA (raising hand politely):  If you watch 6 hours of Judge Judy, will that satisfy the home study mandate? (Google Images)

Question for the OCA (raising hand politely): If you watch 6 hours of Judge Judy, will that satisfy the home study mandate? (Google Images)

Well, there are *some* responsibilities that come with the job.  Like, you have to take “advanced training” once a year.  It’s really no big deal because from what I can find, it’s only 12 HOURS a year… 6 of which can be done from home…and the taxpayers pay for it all (that’s you and me, folks), including giving YOU a nice big chunk o’ change to reward you for missing that beer-drinking, deer-hunting weekend or putting off til next month that downstate city shopping venture with your BFFs…while you stay home, order pizza, and spend a few hours reading legal stuff and drinking coffee to stay awake.

VTL 1229c-5, the sure-fire antidote to the wakeful state (Google Images)

VTL 1229c-5, a sure-fire antidote to the wakeful state (Google Images)

Hopefully some of this training might include NY VTL 1229c, especially subsection 5.  Maybe I’ll volunteer to teach that class.  I mean, it’s not exactly rocket science.  I understood it after reading it twice — once to figure it out and a second time to make sure I didn’t miss anything — which took maybe all of 90 seconds.  However, it apparently befuddled His Dumb-Ass Honor for 27 years, despite all that updated OCA training and a mentoring judge holding his hand…

Busted! (Again! ) Image Courtesy of New York Newsday, July 24, 2012

Busted! (Again!) Image Courtesy of New York Newsday, July 24, 2012

Anyhow, Your Honor should also probably join this: http://nysmagassoc.homestead.com  (see image, below, right) but they’re a fun group — the 2013 conference is at Lake Placid, baby!  And you get a license plate with “SMA” on it, which guarantees you can drive as fast and crazy as you want without ever getting a ticket — that is, unless you are driving drunk and get into an accident.  In that case, if you smack into another car so hard that the driver’s glasses “fly off her face” and “the bolts securing [your] license plate” get stuck in her car, you”ll get a handful of tickets, but who cares — while you recover from Your Honorable Hangover, the DA bumps everything down to a single Class A misdemeanor, for which you endure The Honorable Slap on the Wrist, but —  you’re still a judge!  and no one even thought of rolling up any legal papers to shake at you while bellowing “You’re a criminal now!”

http://www.scjc.state.ny.us/Determinations/A/Apple.Robert.P.pdf).

Even if you do it again 3 years later, you won’t get fired or anything. They’ll put you on paid (!!) leave while the Judicial Commission scratches its head and wonders what to do with you, and that can take months:

http://newsandinsight.thomsonreuters.com/Legal/News/2012/10_-_October/Town_justice_suspended_following_second_DWI_arrest/

"Oh, I'm not vacationing, I'm recovering from my illness..."  (Google Images)

It’s not a vacation when it’s “therapy.”   (Google Images)

Bummer, dude.  Oh, not for Justice Apple — it’s a bummer for you and me, who are paying for his vaca– , I mean “leave.”  Especially since, when this case rolled around the Judicial Commission’s agenda for a second time, they extended his paid leave because

“The commission believes that public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary … would be undermined were Judge Apple to continue to exercise the power of judicial office in one court while contemporaneously defending against two felony charges pending against him in other courts.”

http://newsandinsight.thomsonreuters.com/Legal/News/2012/11_-_November/NY_high_court_continues_suspension_of_judge_facing_felony_DWIs/

Wanna pay more for small claims filing fees? How about paying for full pensions for justices (who may work only 4 or 5 times a month...) Or for judicial immunity so that none of them ever have to worry about being sued or disciplined for their rogue-law decisions?  Well, we'll pay for it all if the Magistates Association has its way...

Wanna pay more for small claims filing fees? How about for full pensions for justices (who may work only 4 or 5 times a month…) Or for judicial immunity so that none of them ever have to worry about being sued or disciplined for their rogue-law decisions? Well, now you know why town and village justices join the  Magistrates Association…

Whoa, back the truck up! “Public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary” is indeed tested whenever a judge commits a crime, but this member of the public would further opine that said “confidence” seriously lessens whenever *any* court official disregards the law, including when a prosecutor favors some judge by dumbing down the multiple charges arising from his drunk-driving accident into a single, much less serious charge that ignores the personal injuries and property damages he caused. Furthermore, and again IMHO, any remaining judicial “integrity” goes right down the toilet when one realizes that this kind of practice is not just acceptable, it is welcomed in up to 72% of the town and village courts, where presiding justices are seated after only 8 days of “legal” training and are never required to obtain even half of a basic law school education, which thereby requires a heavy reliance upon the prosecutor’s (in)discretion —

Uh, excuse me, Your Honor, but you won't find any evidence dated April 11, 2012 *there*, either.  The only evidence is in the court file, and it's dated April 10, 2012.

Uh, excuse me, Your Honor, but the only evidence in this case is dated April 10, 2012.  So, when the prosecutor said “what we have here is an exemption dated after that” and then “gave the Court the discretion of how to proceed” based thereon, she was ly– I mean, ‘mistaken.’ ”  Courtesy Google Images and Trial Transcript p. 16.

— which is exactly how one Wayne County Justice Court bypassed a valid subsection 7 defense to issue a guilty verdict in a harmless seat belt case.  Even when His Honorably Belated Examination of the Evidence proved its legal firmus (thereby exposing the lies inherent in said “discretion”), the Court upheld the verdict by concocting an extralegal “height requirement” from His Honorable But Incredibly Ridiculous And Therefore Negligent Misinterpretation of VTL 1229c-5…

A 9-year-old boy...the only one who could possibly conform to His Honorable But Totally Illegal "Height Requirement."  Courtesy Google Images, National Center for Health Statistics, and Department of Health and Human Services.

A 9-year-old boy…the only one who could possibly conform to the  lawless “height requirement” thunk up by an OCA-certified Wayne County town justice.   Courtesy Google Images, The National Center for Health Statistics, a Very Clumsy Bailiff, and the Honorable Side Room of a certain Wayne County Town Court.

…which, according to that same Commission, preserves rather than violates the “integrity of the court” (and I have their letter to prove it), so go figure, Mr. Tembeckjian, and please let me know what drugs they were on when they determined *that* [insert eye roll here]…

But I digress.

So, what does the Commission think happens to “public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary” when said judge avoids all this felony stuff and pleads “I’m-guilty-but-only-because-I’m-sick” so he can go to “treatment court”?

http://www.lohud.com/article/20130130/NEWS02/301290119/Pawling-judge-pleads-guilty-Carmel-DWI

Easy one!  It depends on just WHO has to pay for the treatment (and all that leave time) required for said sick party to recover.

Blow some dust off that Action Plan and read it yourself right here, on the NY UCS site: http://alturl.com/t9zxh(Image courtesy Google Images)

Wipe some dust off that Action Plan and read it yourself right here, on the NY UCS site: http://alturl.com/t9zxh
And while you’re at it, read the Update, too (Image courtesy Google Images)

I’m not the first one or even the only one who thinks the justice courts need reform.  After the New York Times‘s “Broken Bench” series appeared in 2006, the problem was out in the open.  So, a couple of REAL judges — you know, the ones who actually went to law school? so they could practice law? and thus earn the right to become a judge? — a couple of these REAL judges from the Unified Court System responded to the Times‘s exposé with An Action Plan for the Justice Courts (2006) that used words like “overhaul” and “extended training,” but that was pretty much ignored.   So, they wrote another, stronger report 2 years later that says things like “The current array of justice courts is not the result of any rational assessment of state or local needs” and “The proliferation of justice courts wastes state, county, and local resources,” which, translated into you-and-me language, means something like  “there’s far too many of these things, and they don’t accomplish much besides wasting taxpayer dollars.” Wow, eh?  Then they rocked the world of the wannabe’s by suggesting that candidates be at least 25 years old, have 2 years of college, and spend TWO WHOLE WEEKS in training plus more time in home study.  And if that wasn’t trouble enough, they sought to revamp the testing procedure to eliminate vacuous questions like this one (even though I know from experience that there is at least one Wayne County justice with a 2-year, horse-college accounting degree, 6 days of OCA training (which is all that was required for The Honorable Class of ’86), and 27 years on the bench who still doesn’t know the answer):

“True or False:  Litigants who appear in court must be treated with respect.

osha-caution-do-not-enter-without-a-confined-space-permit-safety-sign

Good advice from Google Images and OSHA.  So be sure you get one, even if  “side room” occupancy is ordered by the court.

(because it is utterly impossible for His Dubious Honor to treat litigants with respect as long as his courtroom is equipped with a “side room,” just sayin’).

Unfortunately, I can’t find where this report, which sits on the Unified Court System website collecting its  cyber-equivalent of dust, has had much effect.   It seems that once the furor over “Broken Benches” dissipated, so did the impetus to improve the justice courts.  Oh, sure, the Two-Year Plan Update (2008) adopted lots of the Action Plan‘s recommendations, including upping the 8 days of training to 7 weeks:

http://www.nycourts.gov/whatsnew/pdf/JusticeCourts2YearUpdate9-08.pdf

but this training is hardly “pre-bench” when certifications are issued to all “newly elected or appointed” candidates after only 8 days of education, allowing them to practice law before completing anything “advanced” (see blogpost regarding Section 17.2).  Don’t get me wrong, 7 weeks of study, whether it is pre-bench or learned on the job, is a definite improvement over 8 days, but it is still woefully deficient when compared to the education one needs just to begin practicing law in this state.

"This is criminal court!  You're a criminal now!"

“This is criminal court! You’re a criminal now!” (Google Images, but the resemblance is striking, even sans the facial hair)

What is more obvious are the rather innocuous suggestions adopted from the Action Plan.  This is why you can pay your traffic fine with a credit card — big deal, I paid mine with a check (which is what prompted all that judicial rolled-up paper-shaking and epithet-bellowing) — and all court proceedings are supposed to be mechanically recorded —  you know, to prevent that transcript-editing thing (but nobody out here records anything, or so says Someone Important at the local appeals court, despite what the Judicial Commission tells me and not to mention Part 30.1 of the Rules of the Chief Administrative Judge)…

In Re:  Gault, 387 I.S. 1, 87 S.CT. 1428, 18 L.Ed. 2d. 527 (1967), "Under our constitution, the condition of being a boy does not justify a kangaroo court."    Nor does the condition of being a 62-year-old short person, just sayin'.   .  .  .  .  AND . . . . . . Associate Justice William O. Douglas:  "It is the right of the accused to be tried by a legally constituted court, not by a kangaroo court"  (Williams v. U.S., 341 U.S. 97, 71 S.CT, 576, 95 L.Ed. 774, [1951].   Except when Wayne County collides with the town and village justice courts,  just sayin'

WHAT THE U.S. SUPREME COURT SAID ABOUT THAT:  “Under our constitution, the condition of being a boy does not justify a kangaroo court.” In Re: Gault, 387 I.S. 1, *& S.CT. 142, 18 L.Ed. 2d. 527 (1967).   Nor does the condition of being a 62-year-old short person, just sayin‘. . . . . AND . . . . . .  “It is the right of the accused to be tried by a legally constituted court, not by a kangaroo court”  Williams v. U.S., 341 U.S. 97, 71. S.CT, 576, 95 L.Ed. 774, (1951).  Huh?  “A legally constituted court”??  Where in Wayne County are you going to find one of those???? (image per Google Images, legal research courtesy of  ME!)

…Regretfully, the significant and necessary changes, the ones that have at least a fighting chance of legitimizing the town and village courts and (hopefully) seating justices who can read, interpret, and properly apply the law, including but not limited to Rules, Part 30.1 (and VTL 1229c!) have outgrown both the Action Plan and its Update and beg new scrutiny from the administrative judges. Meanwhile, the tainted, erratic, hit-or-miss justice court decisions continue to be meted out, thus ensuring that the sequential use of the words “justice” and “court” remain not only contradictio in terminis but also idem eadem idem to nothing more than kangaroo court.  And we all know what the Supreme Court said about THAT (well, if you don’t, then read the caption on the picture over there and you will).  

"There's a holdup in the Bronx, Brooklyn's broken out in fights, there's a traffic jam in Harlem that's backed up to Jackson Heights." "ooo, ooo, let's go!" "Can't, we gotta take care of this old lady who refuses to wear her seat belt!"(Image courtesy Google Images)

“There’s a holdup in the Bronx, Brooklyn’s broken out in fights, there’s a traffic jam in Harlem that’s backed up to Jackson Heights.” “ooo, ooo, let’s go!” “Can’t, we gotta take care of this old lady who refuses to wear her seat belt!”
(Image courtesy Google Images)

So, until the OCA changes things or until I get a height transplant (whichever comes first), I will continue to carry with me THREE lawfully written notes from my doctor (two of them notarized), each written specifically for His Dimwitted Honor, plus a copy of this essay stapled to the front.  If nothing else, it will keep Officer Friendly occupied while (s)he runs your license and registration check, and if you look in your rear-view mirror you might see a smile when (s)he gets to the NY VTL 1229c-5 part (or maybe the shaking-the-rolled-up-papers part), in which case the officer will send you on your ticketless way with a stern warning to drive carefully, all the while trying not to laugh.

"...whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do when they come for you..." (Google Images)

“…whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do when they come for you…” (Google Images)

At least, that’s what happened to me a couple of  Tuesdays ago, when I got stopped.  But then I got stopped again this past Tuesday, January 22nd, for the third time this year, 2013, in beautiful not-so-downtown Wayne County, and Officer P****e was not laughing.  He actually got into my car, adjusted the seat belt himself, and witnessed how it STILL went across my neck, posing a definite safety hazard and confirming everything my doctor wrote.  Sheesh, what’s a cop to do?  So many quotas, but not enough seat belt violators to earn even a set of jumper cables, much less the iPad on p. 24 of the rewards catalog that his kid is pestering him for. . .

"Beam me up, Scotty. . ."

“Beam me up, Scotty…in fact, beam all of us up and away from this Land of Legal Stupid…”

In any event, I have no doubt that I will eventually wind up in another justice court, but I do hope that occurs well after some Very Important Person is subjected to the same kind of treatment that you and I receive therein.  I suspect that would do more to improve this oxymoronic institution than all the Action Plans and Updates in the world.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in That Oxymoron Known as the "Justice Court:" How To Practice Law without a License and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s