MAMARONECK–The kids went back to school on a Tuesday and I went to the Village Justice Court. In the beginning of the summer these days of the week rarely crossed my mind, so busy was I living in my own private Idaho.
But there’s a relief to sending your kids back to their full time jobs so you can get back to the more serious you.
Standing in a crowded Mamaroneck vestibule outside the court to be led by a bailiff to the mundane room where I was to change my plea to guilty for driving without a seat belt, I was the more unsavory me surrounded by those who looked a tad too at home amongst the offenders.
This was no Strauss-Kahn gallery. The flavor du jour was decidedly local, which turned out to be a scary reminder of the miniature scope of suburban living.
I had made calls to numerous local attorneys after receiving my summons last month. I hadn’t spent a lot of time picturing the other defendants as much as wondering how you get sucked up into a system that won’t answer your questions beforehand about the expected amount of the fine, the advantages to pleading not-guilty or the fact that a ‘pre-trial conference’ doesn’t allow you to talk, only to change your plea, to guilty.
Who couldn’t help but think of all the times that Lindsay Lohan didn’t show up for her court appearances? It gets depressing. And have you seen what it’s done to her? She’s gone from looking like a 27 year old who looked 50, to a 50 year old trying to look 27.
It was half-day school pick up so I got there early so as not to be late for him-you try to protect your kids from your unsavory matters; did the boy need to hear his attorney father repeating his office number, reiterating that you only get one call from the pokey?
From the get-go I tried to put on a friendly post-acquittal Casey Anthony face. I had found out in the course of my due diligence that the justice was friends with a lot of people I know. Surely she could separate the wheat from the chaff after spotting me in the gallery? Out of 100 something people, wouldn’t I be one of the first called? Wouldn’t I have time to do some shopping before the mad rush at the half day pick-up?
You would think the judge would start with the least severe offense forcing the repeat offenders and professional hoodlums to sweat it out, but there’s no apparent order aside from the cases that the prosecutor who left mid-way has weighed in on.
There was the $25.00 ticket for riding a bike on the sidewalk for the kid that was, according to his father who accompanied him, “Riding to CVS to get the family milk,” since the said father had just had a heart attack; severe for so many reasons.
The secret code book for violation fines is not available for public consumption, or so the Village clerk told me last spring. I had to guess that everybody there pleaded not-guilty with the hope that miraculously your name would be called and the judge would tell you the charges are dismissed.
If you stand before her and continue to plead not-guilty, your case goes to trial, but you are not allowed to explain or complain at this juncture, so you say guilty and pay the fine.
There was a guilty camera hawker without a without a peddler’s license in a park in Larchmont. $50.00 for selling $80.00 cameras that were still confiscated by the police. I knew then the bullet we had dodged this summer by not having a thirsty officer drive by our unlicensed lemon-aid stand.
There were truck drivers with dozens of offenses that were going to run them in the thousands in fines.
You can pay your fine that day by the way, or you can pay in two weeks or in hardship cases in a month.
For the folks that can’t afford these fines or simply fail to pay, a warrant goes out.
And the rut continues. Pity the poor fisherman who at Mamaroneck Harbor not only caught a Porgy too small to keep, but one too big; $50.00 fine. Teach a man to fish and he pays for a lifetime.
I was called after the kid with the open Bud and a cell phone citation. $25.00 fine! Did I miss Johnny Cochran in the court room?
Who’d that kid know? I knew the judge wasn’t privy to our miniscule degrees of separation when a much older women who spoke little English and whose cell phone would not turn off was called to the bench only to have the judge open her file and ask, are you Kimberly Berns?
I was doing a cross the arms wave from the back. I went up to the bailiff to identify myself.
He told me I would be called when they pulled my arresting officer off the street.
“They can only pull so many officers off the street at one time, you know?” Actually I didn’t but could have guessed it.
Hours later that officer came into the room, called me into the hall and at close proximity asked me if I still thought I was not guilty.
“I had the belt on when you stopped me.”
“You put it on when you saw me. Seat belt fines are the cheapest on the books. Do you want me to change it to talking on a cell, with points?”
“Would anyone want you to do that?”
When he didn’t answer, I asked him if he had ever given anyone a break, a warning.
He walked away. The judge called me to the bench. She seemed tired.
I could have done a sobbing, drop and roll in the courtroom like the flummoxed maid in the Strauss-Kahn debacle, but when the judge asked if I was changing my plea instead of asking if I was guilty, what could a serious person say, but yes.
Kim Berns is a writer and interior designer living in Rye. photo: PDPhotos