The Mendocino County Courthouse here in California's intoxicants capitol was packed last Wednesday with low-level miscreants whose use or misuse of mind-altering substances had landed them in court.
It's striking how many casualties of the drug and alcohol wars there are in a county with a population of not quite 90,000 — if you chased everyone out of the bushes and all the marijuana planters out of the forests. It's doubly striking how much court time the dope and booze casualties occupy.
Wednesday, four courtrooms were devoted to them. The highly paid persons presiding over the processing of drunks and dopers are probably knowledgeable consumers of wine, Mendocino County's celebrated sanctioned drug. About a third our economy is pegged to it. The semi-sanctioned marijuana industry generates even more employment than wine and wine grapes, and then there are government jobs, including a thousand or so people who get paid to rehab the drunks and dopers.
(What's the difference between a wino and a connoisseur? The connoisseur takes the bottle out of the paper bag before he drinks it.)
There were lots of familiar faces from recent photo editions of the Sheriff's booking website, many of them people “known to law enforcement,” as cops describe chronic offenders in press releases.
The serious Courthouse stuff gets heard in the afternoon. Those are the preliminary hearings and the afternoon sessions of jury trials. Anymore, the more serious stuff is also inspired by drugs, and, or alcohol, and the drug that inspires the most crime is not marijuana but methamphetamine. Pot people, except those on the production end of the business, don't tend to get arrested, and on the consumer end they stay home watching their lava lamps change colors and eating Cheetos.
The crazy-making drug is methamphetamine, and that drug is epidemic in Mendocino County.
Take this Fort Bragg kid, Emmett P. Currier, 21. He apparently went over to his ex's house in the always lively block of 400 North Harrison where, in violation of a court order to never again darken her door, Mr. Currier held his lost love, and the infant they have together, against her will for two hours, getting himself charged with a predictable list of serious offenses, including domestic battery, false imprisonment and even destruction of a phone line. All this is alleged, but I'll bet if you asked the young man what really happened the list of allegations would double.
And guess what? When the boy was arrested the day after laying siege to his lost love the cops found “a pipe commonly used to smoke methamphetamine” and charged him with “possession of drug paraphernalia.”
Maybe the kid's a natural born maniac, but I'll bet he wouldn't have done what he's accused of doing without the drug backing him up.
Versions of this guy are all over the Courthouse every court day, and even if Mr. Currier and the many like him straighten up and never get in trouble again they'll be explaining themselves for the rest of their lives.
In Judge Moorman's courtroom, another very young man with a troubled love life was explaining why he'd violated a court order to stay away from his former girlfriend.
“But, your honor, both of us bowl, and I was coming in the door of the bowling alley while she was going out, and I just happened to run in to her.”
Judge Moorman advised the young man to make every effort to avoid the young woman. The judge pointed out that the young woman had successfully gone to court to get a stay away order and here comes you, lover boy, right back into her space.
“I will, your honor,” the young man promised, looking like he meant it.
Judge Nelson was presiding over a packed Drug Court. Drug Court is “a court-supervised, comprehensive drug and alcohol treatment program for non-violent offenders” that aims at total abstinence. You get diverted into Drug Court if the DA thinks you may be salvageable. You also get diverted there, if anyone involved would admit it, because there isn't enough room in the County Jail or state prison for everyone getting arrested for drug and alcohol offenses.
Mendo's drug and alcohol rehab programs hit a little bump in the road last week when the husband of the woman in charge of them was arrested for drunk driving. Worse, he was wearing a t-shirt inscribed, “Get Me Drunk and Enjoy the Show.” Which isn't to say the poor woman is responsible for hubbykin's hijinks, but in this county any rehab program dependent on total abstinence has a lot to overcome.
Posted outside the courtrooms are signs of the regressive times — warnings against improper dress, Fifty years ago it was understood that men didn't show up in court wearing singlets or t-shirts with vulgar inscriptions emblazoned on them. But looking around the hallowed halls last week the dress stipulations seem barely complied with. There were men who looked like they'd just rolled out of bed in the clothes they were wearing when they rolled into bed, and women of all ages who couldn't possibly be anybody's mother, sister, grandmother. Fifty years ago going to court as a defendant was serious business.
Anymore, it's merely a fact of thousands of lives, about as serious as going to the post office to pick up your mail.
There were lots of no shows and lots of warrants issued.
Ms. Samantha Green was a no-show. She's already on probation for drug-related offenses so her probation was also revoked and a warrant for $7500 was issued for her arrest.
A Calfire guy appeared in uniform on a DUI. Newly seated judge Jeanine Nadel, perhaps aware of the big fires burning not far to the east, granted work release. The public interest wouldn't be served at this time by remanding firefighters.
A pretty girl with 'Dereon' inscribed on the back of her jacket and wearing jeans several sizes too small for her, mooned the room each time she stood up. The man directly and literally to her rear whispered to the woman with him, “I hope she has to stand up again.”
A shifty looking fellow said he was there for his brother who couldn't get to court today because the brother was in the hospital. If I'd been the judge I would have wanted some proof of that claim but it was accepted as fact. All the people associated with the court, including the judge, are always rifling packages of paper, many of them voluminous chronicles of misspent lives going back to the defendant's teen years. Maybe the court was aware that this particular guy really was strapped to an IV somewhere.
An earnest, nicely dressed young man named Steven Mendoza told Judge Moorman that AA counseling had been helpful to him, and that he was staying away from people who might get him in trouble. Mr. Mendoza also said that he “works out a lot,” and occasionally works with his father while he looks for employment of his own.
He still had some community service to do. The judge told him to pay $40 to get all signed up to do it. Defendants also have to pay $50 to get assigned a public defender. It's not cheap to get in trouble.
A matronly Mexican woman who needed an interpreter to get the bad news that speeding with no driver's license would cost her a $481 fine spread over a 90-day payment plan. She said she was the sole support of a household of five.
A tweeker babe, abnormally thin, is asked if everyone in her house is clean and sober. She says, “Yes, your honor.” She goes on to say that she's clean, and as soon as she takes care of a medical problem she wants to get into drug rehab but “they all cost thousands and thousands of dollars.”
A youngish, articulate man says he was driving “a little tiny mini-bike in a vineyard in Redwood Valley” when he was cited for driving without a license. “I wasn't on the pavement, your honor. I was riding up and down the rows.”
Judge Nadel offers mini-bike man a $780 infraction “option,” an option he reacts to with open-mouthed disbelief and quickly decides to pay $50 for a public defender, although as a silver-tongued dude he could save the $50 and present his own case.
In Judge Behnke's nearly empty courtroom, a man is being taken into custody just as a large-breasted person of indeterminate gender nicely dressed in a floral dress and women's shoes walks through the door. Dan Haehl of the Public Defender's office is representing this apparent her who's a him named Lee Williamson. Mr. Miss Williamson, we vaguely recall, is looking at an indecent exposure charge. He-She lives in Lakeport. His “matter” was put over and set for 1:30 in a couple of weeks to accommodate his bus schedule.
Judge Behnke solemnly warns a skinny little male tweeker to stay off the drug until his next court appearance, and in the meantime tells the guy to fork over fifty bucks to the PD to proceed with his case.
On it went, all morning, crime and punishment in a time of social collapse.