As careful of a driver as I am, even a driving fool gets a traffic ticket now and then. In this case, it was nearly one month ago in Naples, Florida, and it was for doing 37mph in a zone marked 35mph. It felt a little extreme to me, so I called a place I heard advertised on the radio all over Florida to help you fight traffic tickets.
I was required to appear with my lawyer just yesterday in a courtroom in Naples. When I arrived, I was surprised by the amount of odd and very unusual people waiting to plead their cases. I suddenly felt like I was in a room full of "Bill's people," the strange folks who find me wherever I travel and are drawn to me like I'm a weirdo magnet.
The Judge came in and sat at his bench. I noticed that there was an old fashioned telephone on the edge of his desk (or bench). It was a black phone with a dial on it instead of push buttons. The Judge introduced himself, and then explained the rules and procedures. "But above all," he said, "I insist that you be prepared and just tell me guilty or not guilty. Understood?"
The first name was called, and a grungy dude stepped up to the podium for defendants. "Your honor, I got a story to tell."
The Judge groaned. "Guilty or not guilty?"
"That's the thing, your Honor, it's not a black and white matter. It kinda falls into a gray area. Know what I'm sayin'?"
The Judge shook his head NO. "Did you hear my instructions? Please say guilty or not guilty."
"If only it was that easy, your judgeship. See, it's kinda, well, you know how it is."
The Judge sighed. "No, I do not."
"Sure you do. I'm a good man, a real good man. Oh sure, I've stolen cars and robbed ladies' purses, but I think we've all done that, right?"
"Guilty or not guilty?"
"Judge, I need you to know that prison is not for me. I'm not a prison person. If you send me to prison, I won't come out a better man, but instead I will come out being a bad ass criminal. Now do you want to be responsible for that?"
The Judge shook his head in frustration. "Why don't you take your seat and think long and hard about how you want to plead. I will call your name when I'm ready for you, after everyone else."
"Hold up, you means I got to stay here all day?"
The Judge turned to the bailiff and said, "Call the next name."
The bailiff did so as the grungy fellow made his way angrily back to his seat. A very large obese latina woman came waddling up to the podium next.
The Judge stared at her very intently. "Guilty or not guilty?"
"Your Honor the Judge, I claim myself a sovereign state."
"I beg your pardon?"
"I am a sovereign state, I am independent, and I do not follow the U.S. laws or either am I bound by them. See, I am a sovereign state."
The Judge slowly pulled his hand down over his face. "That doesn't apply here."
"Of course it does."
"It does not."
"I think you're wrong."
"I know I'm right."
"What makes you so sure?"
The Judge held up his gavel. "This gavel, my robes, and the state of Florida."
"That don't mean nothing to me. Hijo de puta."
"Your Honor the Judge, I am a sovereign state. Wherever I walk, the soil underneath my feet be my own state of sovereignty, and so everything that I do has diplomatic immunity."
The Judge looked over the court documents. "It says here you ran a red light. Did you do it?"
"Of course, but I am protected by--"
The Judge interrupted quickly "Guilty," and pounded his gavel. The woman continued to speak, but the bailiff went over and firmly yet politely escorted her to the courtroom doors. And then my name was called. I was a bit concerned because my attorney had not yet arrived. I slowly walked up to the podium, and just as the Judge spoke to me my lawyer ran in and came rushing to my side.
"Good morning, your Honor."
The Judge smirked. "Running late today, counselor?"
"The bigger issue here is justice your Honor, and I know we will find that in your courtroom today for Mr. Bill Johnson."
I whispered to my attorney "Bill Thomas."
"Your Honor, I've just been informed it's Bill Thomas we are here to defend."
"You are here to defend him, not me, not WE."
My attorney chuckled. "Yes your Honor, of course you're right." Then my attorney whispered to me. "Hi, I'm sorry to be late. We met on the phone. Jason Biggins, at your service." We shook hands. Then he turned to the impatient Judge. "Your honor, what we are dealing with today is a serious miscarriage of justice to the most heinous degree."
"Guilty or not guilty?" asked the Judge. And then the phone rang. The Judge held up a finger towards me and Jason to indicate for us to pause. The Judge answered. "Yes? What? When did this happen? And what did you do? Oh, I see. How much did they say it was going to cost? How much? Are you kidding me? OK, I will speak to you later." The Judge hung up and seemed very distracted and lost in thoughts.
"Shall I continue now?" asked Jason.
"What? Yes, yes, go on."
"Your Honor, Mr. Thomas is a respected man and a professional driver. He was passing through our fair town one month ago when--" The Judge held up a finger again to pause Jason. "Did you have a question for me, your Honor?"
"Yes I do. My wife just called and said that a large rock hit her car windshield and caused a large crack. How much do you think it will cost to replace the windshield?"
Jason seemed dumbfounded. "I really wouldn't know."
"Come now, you are an intelligent man. My wife says she was told that it would cost around $500. Does that sound right to you?"
Jason shrugged. "I guess that sounds fair..."
"Well I'd like to know what world you live in where that's fair!" barked the Judge.
"I meant no disrespect, your Honor."
"I mean really, $500! That is highway robbery!"
"In retrospect, I suppose you are correct. That is too high." The Judge paused and pondered for a full minute. Jason seemed to not know what to do or say at this point. Finally, the Judge spoke. "Do you have a motion?"
Jason's eyes widened. "Uh, case dismissed, your Honor?"
"Granted." The Judge pounded his gavel. "We're going to take a recess now, we will start again right after lunch. 1pm sharp, do not be late." He pounded the gavel once more, then hurried out of the courtroom. I looked at my watch and it was only 9:45am. Short session.
Jason beamed at me as we walked out of the courtroom. "Told you I'd get you off." Indeed he did. But that had to be the most oddly interesting display of American justice I've ever witnessed.