Friday, October 21, 2011

Ordering the court

I've been in courtrooms plenty of times (only once as a defendant, and my plea for justice in the case of a cleverly-hidden "No Left Turn" sign is probably a landmark in American jurisprudence by now) and I have a pretty good idea of how things ought to be done.  In my professional life, I have testified in trials ranging from homicides to dog bites, and one thing is certain for me:  the people involved: the crooks and the cops, the evildoers and the lawbringers, and the witnesses who saw everything and the eyewitnesses whose eyes were taking a day off that day, all deserve fair treatment and honesty from the bench.

More and more, I came to see judges who seemed to wish they were on one of those Morning Zoo radio shows, with a sycophant or two making appreciative chortles, and a hapless participant in the hot seat serving as the comic foil. All across the country, judges have been criticized, censured and disciplined because they saw the bench as a stage from which to perform their standup act, while sitting down.  Holding a witness up to ridicule, criticizing the section of town that a person comes from, and grandstanding for the police and other lawyers in the room might give them something to share with the room later, but court ought to held with an air of dignity and probity.

It seems to me that a lot of this started with the popularity of Judge Judy, the shrill harridan who shrieks such witty remarks as "Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining!"(whatever that means) to the stunned people before her.  Once she opened the gates, former judges from all points on the compass were flooding into TV studios, hiring a "bailiff," and swinging the gavel.  The way it worked for Judy and the others was, they would find people who had a bone to pick with someone.  Let's say you let your buddy Howie Doohan borrow your ride to run down and get pizzas for the Little League banquet, and on the way home, he backed your hoopty into a dumpster, causing $834.68 worth of damage.

Howie comes back to you, hands you the keys to the dented machine, and says, "How was I to know they put a dumpster right in the parking lot of Pizza City? I'd complain, if I were you!"

And then he tells you he doesn't have insurance.  Here are your choices:

a) pay for it yourself
b) smite him zestfully around the head and face with a softball bat
c) go on Judge Judy.

Judge Judy and the rest of those shows are always looking for flamboyant, verbose people with grievances against former friends, lovers, coworkers, whatever.  The deal is, you both get paid a "talent" fee for being on the show, and everyone goes home happy, except for the poor sound guy who has to try to control the mic output of Judy's voice.  The people on the show are just doing what they would have done in a real court, but with more theatrical value.

There is a fairly new show that caught my eye one day; it's called "America's Court with Judge Ross."  The gimmick on this show is, they don't even make a pretense of it being real.  They hire actors, and the thing is taped in Hollywood, so there's no shortage of men and women willing to play the part of Roommate Who Got Burned On The Rent Two Months In A Row. or Husband Who Caught His Wife Cheating With the Domino's Guy.  At the very end of the show, there is a split-second flash of info on the screen that says that "all characters displayed are fictional and any resemblance to actual persons is coincidental."

So, when watching judge shows on TV, and heaven knows they are popular all afternoon, we now have a choice between real reality and fake reality.  Let us pray for wisdom enough to know the difference.

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