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A friend of mine, we’ll call him “Joe”‚ even though his real name is “Bill”‚ asked me to go to court with him recently. I wont go into the details of his case except to say that it involved his driving - no it wasn’t OUI - and he could have lost his drivers license for about 30 days and maybe a fine of about $200.
I went along not just to help my friend out but I was curious to see what a typical Maine District Court looked like on “trial day.” Let’s just say it’s not a pleasant place to be at 8:30 in the morning especially on a beautiful day. In fact, wasting a beautiful day in such a place definitely makes the whole experience worse. There was very little laughter in the group that stood outside the courtroom waiting to be called in. This was not a chatty group and I found myself looking at guys and thinking, "I bet he did something really bad.".
But there were enough distractions to make me glad I went and my friend’s business was all over and done with in less than two hours.
As I surveyed the group of accused law breakers I was surprised to see how these people were dressed for what I thought would be an important day for them - their day in court. I’d never thought about it much but when I did think about it I always assumed people “dressed up‚” for something as solemn as an appearance in a stately court room. It was obvious that these folks in Oxford County hadn’t gotten that memo.
Some people were dressed neatly but casually while others looked like they were auditioning for an episode of “Cops.” I think some had already appeared on “Cops.” No one in the group looked like they had labored over their “Trial Day” wardrobe.
One man arrived for his big day in a T-shirt and torn sweat pants and neither looked like it was fresh from a dried-and-folded laundry pile. Torn sneakers completed his trial day outfit.
I don’t know if this day was typical but court activity came in sudden bursts of activity. After standing around for almost 30 minutes a police officer called everyone into the court room and gave a quick synopsis of what would be happening that morning. He then read off the names of people who were supposed to be there and it was surprising to see how many people who were supposed to be there were not present. They would be cited for what the officer called an FTA - failure to appear.
The officer then told the group that the district attorney would be available in his office to talk to anyone who wanted to see him before court resumed.
This preliminary business was over in a matter of minutes and everyone filed out of the court room. Many went and lined up outside the “DA’s” office while others went outside for a cigarette.
My friend wanted to see the DA so we stood in the hallway and waited as official looking people went in and out of the DA’s busy office.
Whenever the door opened you could see several police officers in the room talking to each other and sounds of hearty laughter spilled out into the hallway whenever the office door was opened.
"They’re obviously having a lot more fun in there than we’re having out here in the hall," I said to my friend.
He laughed but everyone else within earshot maintained their long faces, proving me right. There was no fun in the hallway on “trial day”.
When court resumed the first few cases were dispatched quickly and my friend was number three. As it turned out his license was suspended and I had to drive him home.
The guy in the torn sweat pants was up next. He was found guilty of being “an habitual offender” and given jail time. The judge obviously felt that a OCJ jumpsuit would be a major - if only temporary - improvement in his appearance.
Contact John at: or write:
John McDonald, Storyteller Central, P.O. Box 301, South Paris, ME 04281
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