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Courtroom the final bastion of decency

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By BEN CARLSON

 Column as I see ’em …

Barring the remarkably unlikely scenario of me winning a Powerball jackpot, it’s a safe bet that my rewarding career as a journalist isn’t going to leave me flush with cash, free to travel the world in retirement.

I’m good with that.

Instead, along with hunting and fishing, I fully intend to spend a day or so a week observing the ongoing drama that is District and Circuit court.

Most of you have jobs that don’t allow you the luxury of hanging around courtrooms; instead you have to actually work for a living.

Not me. Because I’ve assigned myself the crime and courts beat (a perk of being the editor), I actually get paid to hang around the courthouse, drawing glares from the people whose mug shots you’ve seen in the paper, and an occasional wary eye from attorneys who’d much rather be neither quoted nor photographed, including one who loudly upbraided me right in the courtroom for a photo of her that appeared during a trial late this summer.

I know what you’re thinking; that you’d rather watch paint peel than hang around a stuffy old courthouse, watching prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges hold forth on the law.

About that you’d be wrong. While there’s rarely the drama seen on various court-based television shows, what happens right here in our courthouse can be intriguing.

I sat through what began as a mundane session of District Court last week, watching as Judge Donna Dutton and the rest plodded their way through a variety of minor charges.

Then it got a little more interesting toward the end. One fellow, a frequent visitor to both the courtroom and jail, drew an immediate and needed rebuke from Dutton for making a remark that would have resulted in my dad giving me a swift swat to the head had I uttered it.

The man, who was there because he just can’t seem to pay for his own children, was asked by Dutton where he’s living.

“With my old lady,” he popped off, causing Dutton to peer at him over the glasses perched on the end of her nose.

“Don’t you ever use the term old lady in front of me again,” she warned him before giving him another two weeks to pay.

Dutton followed that admonition with a warning that if he doesn’t pay in two weeks, he’ll be “on the wall,” which in the courtroom means the jury box where inmates carted here from the Shelby County jail sit and wait to appear before the judge.

Next came a dimwitted teenager who has graced the hallowed pages of this newspaper numerous times in recent months, including for huffing compressed air or some darn thing and passing out in front of a bunch of kids playing in the park.

He was in court to answer why he hadn’t paid some court-ordered fines for one of his arrests. He told Dutton it’s because he’s been busy working.

Dutton, a typically congenial judge, peaked up over her glasses yet again.

“Well, you just got arrested again,” she said, referencing the teen’s arrest earlier this month for (take a deep breath) alcohol intoxication, second-degree disorderly conduct, fourth-degree assault, third-degree unlawful transaction with a minor, theft by unlawful taking, possession of burglary tools and a person aged 18 to 20 possessing, purchasing or having alcohol.

“So,” Dutton continued, “you haven’t been working too hard. Two weeks, or you’ll be on the wall.”

Others received less strident admonitions, including a young man who is charged with breaking into the high school cafeteria, apparently because the food is just that good.

Dutton, much more quietly, reminded the young man of his age, along with the fact that he already is facing a felony charge that could haunt him the rest of his life.

I really couldn’t hear the rest, but when the boy walked away from Dutton’s bench, it was fairly apparent he got the message.

I know, I know. I probably have a screw loose for finding the least bit of interest in what are actually fairly mundane courtroom affairs, but consider this. Where else in America can one go these days to see, at least on occasion, someone tell people who simply cannot or will not behave that what they are doing is wrong, and give them a metaphorical kick in the crotch, particularly without fear that the PC police will storm in and admonish them for doing so?

Of course that will probably change at some point, too, because it simply isn’t fair when basic decency is thrust upon the indecent, you know? 

 

Speaking of retirement …

I’m responsible for my own retirement funds and at some point, it appears state employees will be, too.

I found it rather intriguing that Gov. Bevin’s call to have future teachers and non-hazardous employees move into a 401(k)-styled plan, a proposal that hasn’t caused too great a stir, at least from what I’ve seen.

If that happens, gone will be the days when teachers and state workers can work 25 or 30 years and hang up their spurs.

Of course they all take less pay for their efforts than they’d get in civilian life (or so they say), but that early trip to couch certainly made up for it.

I’ve never bought into the notion that workers performing typical office tasks have any compelling reason to land a state job in the early to mid-20s then call it a career by 50.

Cops? Absolutely. They shovel the, well, you know, that fills the courtrooms and I’m amazed they can do that for a decade, let alone several.

Teachers? They deal with inmates of a different and at times equally as dangerous sort, so checking out early probably is all that stands between them and sanity.