The thing I look most forward to reading each week when I receive my Advertiser — well, most weeks — okay, on the semi-rare occasions when the paper shows up — fine! Both times that the paper has arrived here, the first thing I turn to is Bruce McEwen's lively account of the rich pageant of the Mendocino court system and the parade of incompetent, morally bereft, borderline lunatics that typifies it. And that's just the lawyers! (Rim shot). Never mind the fodder that perpetuates this grim machine, that luckless procession of unfortunates being chewed up and spat out every day.
Is it me, or does it seem that the caliber of criminal featured in the Mendocino courts and McEwen's report is substandard? I'm not just throwing stones from my glass house, either. I freely include myself in that characterization. After all, I'm the burglar who, realizing the weight and dimensions of his swag exceeded the carrying capacity of the drug diminished frame and refusing, raccoon-like, to relinquish any of it, called a cab from the caller ID equipped phone of the burgled business and directed a taxi to his front door. This case did not require the deductive wizardry of a Sherlock Holmes to solve it; even the Ukiah Police Department was able to crack it within a week.
And when I robbed the bank, the note I handed the teller — rather than a clear, concise demand for money or else — was a floridly circuitous request for something — money? — that hinted obliquely at the possibility of violence and was sufficiently vague that the teller said, "I don't understand" upon receiving it and I was forced to call an audible. "Just give me the goddamn money," I hissed. I guess I was trying to convey the idea that this was no ordinary robbery — I knew some words.
Still, I can and do laugh at the bumbling antics of our local malefactors. The court proceedings would make for excellent entertainment even without embellishment, but Bruce's spicy editorialisms add piquancy to an already pungent stew. His wry asides and satirical characterizations are the perfect seasoning in his weekly bubbling bouillabaisse of criminal misadventure, legal hijinks, and tomfoolery.
Naturally, reportage of this caliber is going to arouse my competitive instincts and I think: I could do that. Perhaps not with all the verve that the estimable Mr. McEwen brings to the table and I certainly would never presume to usurp his position, but I do think it would be fun to try it once.
Now, I do realize that I am on the far other end of the judicial process, being over half-done with my sentence and do not anticipate being in court anytime soon. But the fact is that I have an icelandic memory and could, court reporter-like, rattle off transcripts verbatim for any one of my many court dates in nothing flat. It's a gift.
So let's return now to— Oh, let's say, May 17, 2005. Don't bother checking to see if court was in session that day. I am infallible in this regard.
The scene: Courtroom B, Judge David Nelson presiding.
Judge: In the matter of CR 54456, a Patricio Ordonez, regarding bail.
PD: Linda Thompson from the Public Defender's Office, your honor. I would like to request that my client be OR'd as he or she —
Judge: Is there some issue here regarding gender?
PD: No sir, it's just that the client's name seemed gender-neutral and I haven't yet determined his or her sex.
Judge: He's sitting right there. You could look over at the jury box and clear it up with one look at his fulsome ’stache.
PD: Yes, but I have pretty much committed to just looking down at the file or up at the bench. If I start just casting my eyes about willy-nilly, I'm liable to get confused.
Judge: I assure you he is male. Proceed.
Defendant: Yo soy un hombre.
Judge: Quiet, you. Thompson?
PD: As I was saying, Mr. Oblonsky should be OR'd. He has strong ties to the community, is not a flight risk, and has no criminal record.
ADA: The people would disagree, your honor. Mr. Ordonez is a Honduran national with ties to an international criminal cartel. This is his first time in the county. He was arrested with 50 pounds of meth and a trunk full of body parts. He has a plane parked at the airport and the keys are in his property at the jail. The only reason he has no criminal record is that every time he gets arrested, the courtroom gets blown up. On second thought, maybe we should let him go.
Judge: OR granted. Vaya con dios, senor.
Defendant: You have made a wise choice. Adios.
Judge: next case — you know what? Let's recess. Thompson, run across the street and get us some pastries and lattes. You may have half a dry bagel and a small black coffee.
PD: Yessir. (trots off.)
Judge: Bailiff, you may use the overhead projector to make shadow puppets to entertain spectators while we are gone.
Bailiff: Can I do the funny voices as well?
Judge: Within reason. Use discretion.
(30 minutes later the judge walks in brushing pastry crumbs from his robe.)
Judge: Stay seated. Next case, CR 50876, Flynn Washburne. Excessive volumatic intonation in a house of worship. Singing too loud in church, eh? What got into you?
Defendant: The Holy Spirit overtook me, your highness.
Judge: That's what they all say. Bind him over for trial. Bill set at $20,000. No OR.
ADA: Beg pardon, judge. But I'm not even sure that's a crime.
Judge: Why don't we let God decide what's a crime and what isn't?
ADA: I think the Constitution might say something about that.
Judge: (to PD): You! What about you? Anything to contribute regarding the fate of this miscreant?
PD: (Stands in silence, peering owlishly at the judge.)
Judge: Don't just stand there blinking at me like Father Bloody Brown. Say something!
PD: Uh, my client has strong ties to the community, not a flight risk, no criminal record—
ADA: No record?! The man is a menace!
Judge: Time served. On your way, buster. Don't let me catch you in here again.
Defendant: Upon my honor, Your Grace, I shall nevermore darken these portals, lest the Lord in his infinite zeal hurl at me his just lightning and strike me from this earth. Yea, mine eyes are opened.
Judge: Bailiff, remove this jackass. Can we recess again? My foot hurts. Thompson! Get under the bench and rub my foot.
PD: Yessir! (Scuttles across the floor and dives under bench.)
Judge: That's the stuff. Oooh, yeah. Next case!
Bailiff: Docket's clear, Judge. You done judged the hell out of that docket.
Judge: Damn right. ’s how we do up in here.
Judge reaches behind his seat and flipps a switch. Kenny Loggins "I'm Alright" booms out of the loudspeakers at full volume and an array of lasers emerge hydraulically from the bench and fire their beams at the disco ball descending from the ceiling. A beach ball appears from out of the gallery and champagne corks fly cross the room.
Judge: We are all going to get laid!
The entire courtroom erupts in a frenzy of dance. Confetti fills the air and several women strip down to their underwear. A goat in a straw hat wanders in, followed by a phalanx of police officers who, after assessing the situation, shrug and begin dancing and partying with abandon. As we take our leave of the scene, the PD is sitting astride the goat, wearing a policeman's hat at a cockeyed angle.
PD: Spriiiiiiiiiiiiiiing breeeeeeeeeeak! Woooooo!
* * *
And that's the way it was, campers, May 17, 2005. You can check the record, but I assure you that every moment has been enumerated here in stark photographic detail. I'm pretty sure Bruce McEwen was sick that day or he'd have definitely recounted it himself. Don't mention it. Happy to help. Keep up the good work.