After spending an hour in the Flagler County courthouse last week, I’m disappointed to report that our local justice system is a joke.
You’re not going to believe this, but after all of my time inside, watching pretrials, soaking it in, not once did I hear a single gavel slam or see a powdered wig. And to think, these people call themselves professionals.
Now, I know that I act tough, but truth be told, this was my first time ever in a real courthouse. But I’m no amateur. Watch enough “Law & Order” (and, trust me, I have), you quickly become well versed in how the criminal justice system is supposed to function.
Objections. Contempt of court. Swelling music as a prosecutor berates a defendant into tearful confession.
It’s really not rocket science.
But these local guys … they’ve got it all wrong.
With 15 or 20 pretrials scheduled on the day’s docket, the judge ran through the list like lightning. An alleged criminal would take the stand. His lawyer would say they weren’t ready for trial and wanted a continuance. And then the judge would grant one. And that was it.
There were no arguments, no heated cross-examinations or impassioned monologues. Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson never even bothered showing up. And what’s a court scene, I wondered, without Joe Pesci there dropping F-bombs?
The whole thing was a sham. I saw the truth, ladies and gentlemen, and I can admit beyond a shadow of a doubt: I couldn’t handle it.
Then something happened that changed the mood of the day. A case was called and both counselors approached the bench. A kid, an orange jumpsuit with chained hands and feet and a face that didn’t look a day older than 19, stood deflated at the podium, alone except for with a cop behind him, making sure he didn’t try anything funny.
The room began to rattle with whispers, people talking amongst themselves. And I looked around, from one blank stare to another, and it hit me that all of this was reality. These families were on trial. They weren’t watching because it was fun; they were there because a person they loved killed somebody, or stole tons of money, or sold drugs to kids. And not one of them knew what would happen next.
A second later, the stenographer leaned over, said something to the clerk and then laughed, what seemed a bit too loudly.
But the kid just stood there, shoulders slumped, silent, until his attorney led him with a hand on his shoulder over to a chair in line with the rest of the jumpsuits. And there he sat, smaller and somehow flimsier than the rest. His hair was short and he was pale, except for a few stray whiskers playing the role of a mustache on his upper lip.
“Next, we have Case No. … ” the clerk announced, rattling off numbers like she was mediating a heated game of Elks Lodge bingo. Everybody listened. And then a new guy stood up and slowly approached the podium. She’d called his number. It was time to claim his prize.
In that room, with its hard wood benches and harder rule, that was what winning looked like.