My Day in Court
Yesterday found me at the District Court of Maryland, Traffic Division, to fight a parking ticket. We had received a “Warning Notice” for failure to respond to a citation that we had never received, for our van being parked in a Transit Zone, in one of those neighborhoods in which you might be ill-advised to park in the most legal of spaces — especially after dark, which, according to the time on the notice, it was. Mistakes happen, and the most likely explanation is that the wrong license plate number was transcribed from the citation onto the notice. Besides a compliment from the judge for having a “mean” hat (like many Orthodox Jewish men, I wear a black fedora, which he didn’t want me to forget on the bench), he also gave me the Not Guilty verdict I was looking for (benefit of the doubt).
The experience was notable for a few reasons. First and foremost, the judge was (as the previous comments might indicate), very friendly and down to earth, very unpretentious. He was handling “non-incarcerable offenses” (his translation: “the only way you can go to jail is by doing something really dumb in this Courtroom”), and was happy to show the friendlier side of the court system. Everyone appealing a ticket seemed to have some justification, and he was happy to give a Not Guilty to, for example, the obviously handicapped woman who was driving the wrong car on the day she was ticketed for using a handicapped spot. “Justice, justice shall you pursue…” but tempered with mercy. I was impressed.
He also told the following story, which happened to take place in the same neighborhood in which we were charged with parking illegally. He walks, he says, through all of Baltimore’s neighborhoods, and on a Sunday morning a young man approached him on the otherwise-deserted street corner. “Hey man,” he said, “want some weed?”
The judge responded by reaching into his pocket, and pulling out his badge indicating that he is a judge. The young man looked at him, looked at his badge, back to him, back to the badge, and finally back to him. And then he said, “so does this mean you don’t want any, or you can’t have any?”
Of course, the story had to be shared simply because it’s very funny. But I also wonder what it says when a young drug dealer is so unaware of the law and its possible consequences… or so brazen as to imagine the judge would have no thought of having him arrested.
Thinking pragmatically, a Jewish teacher of millenia past blessed his students that they should fear G-d as much as they fear other people (they were taken aback, but he pointed out that many will do in private, i.e., in G-d’s Presence, what they would never do in public). What does it say about society when even an earthly higher authority is given so little recognition? In the end of days, the Mishnah says, “chutzpah” will overwhelm…