Confessions of a Scofflaw – Part II
In today’s conclusion, our local scofflaw gets to experience the NYC court system, and finds some interesting comparisons to Hoboken. Read Part I if you haven’t already.
Confessions of a Scofflaw Part II: The Court Date
The building at 346 Broadway was built in 1898 as the headquarters for the New York Life Insurance Company. It’s a beautiful structure, and you can still see traces of its old grandeur in the marble halls and interior metalwork. However, the scurrying insurance clerks have now been replaced by hundreds of grim-faced New Yorkers, all accused of minor violations of the NYC criminal code.
On a cold December morning, I joined that crowd of amateur perps, having received a summons on my way back to Hoboken several months before for “Littering; discharge of a noxious fluid,” an act more commonly known as public urination.
The crumpled little pink summons told me to report at 9:30 am. I arrived on-time, only to find at least 300 people already in a line that snaked through the halls.
They were obviously repeat customers, as most of them brought reading material. They even all seemed to know each other! People were waving to each other across the room, getting in slap-boxing matches, etc. I was definitely an outsider.
As a newcomer, I had little to do for the hour in line except read all the bureaucratic signs in the hall. There was one in particular that told an immense amount about the character of New York City in 2007. It was a list of all the languages that translators could help with if you didn’t speak English. I counted 30 different languages before my eyes glazed over and all the Asian and Cyrillic symbols blended together into mush. I briefly considered claiming to speak a language that wasn’t on the list, but I’m sure they wouldn’t see the humor.
Eventually, I was told to report to Courtroom 2 for the hearing. The first thing that struck me as odd was the judge. He was well into his 70s, and could possibly have been in his 80s. I don’t mean that as a criticism, but I can’t imagine being that age and still having to deal with the sad parade of humanity that troops by him every day. Being 80 and scolding litterers and drunks all day just seems completely depressing.
Read the rest after the jump.
As everyone sat down, a court officer announced, “Take off your do-rags, guys! No do-rags in court.” He then looked at me and said, “And you…ahhh…take off the baseball hat.”
The group of about 50 that I was assigned to was mostly composed of people who had been caught with an open container. This was especially interesting in light of the Hoboken St. Patrick’s Day spectacle in which hundreds of people received $1,000 fines for carrying an open beer. It would be enlightening to see how New York handled it.
One by one, people were called to the front of the room. When someone with an open container violation was called up, the bailiff read their name and, strangely, the brand of alcohol they were drinking.
Middle-aged black men were usually caught with Hennessy, Hispanics always preferred Corona, and a preppy woman blushed with embarrassment when it was announced to the crowd that she was busted for guzzling white wine from Crescendo Hills Vineyards.
The only oddity came when an the bailiff announced “Moet Champagne” and an Asian man with a ponytail strutted cockily to the front of the room while murmurs of “All right!” and “That’s the way to do it, man!” came from the crowd.
But whatever they were drinking, from Bud Light up to Moet, the fine was the same: $20, just 2% of the $1,000 fine that Hoboken handed out to so many people on St. Patrick’s Day.
An hour went by and I began to wonder if they left me off the list. But when I got called up, the whole process took about 60 seconds. Without even asking me a single question, the judge said, “50 bucks if you plead guilty or you can plead not guilty and come back again.”
When I woke up that morning, I was wondering whether I’d see the very attractive female Latina cop that gave me the summons. Apparently, I’d only get to see her if I pled not guilty and she had to come in and testify.
I looked out at the crowd of sullen New Yorkers, all staring ahead with glazed eyes while they waited for their turn in front of the judge. None of them looked nervous or even concerned. These were people who were so numbed and passive to being caught up in “the system” that this was literally just another day.
There was no way I wanted to be a part of this again. Forget the hot cop. “I’ll pay the 50 dollars. No problem,” I told the judge and within 30 seconds I was out the door and on the way to the cashier.
Overall, the day definitely had some unintentional comedy. When I first got into the building, I accidentally went to the wrong floor on an elevator. Going back down, three large female traffic enforcement officers got on the elevator, causing it to jam since they exceeded the weight limit. As they got off, I was left with a diminutive Asian janitor who burst out laughing, kept saying, “Fat cops! Fat cops!” over and over, then bursting into more laughter.
Then there was the guy talking on a cell phone while running toward a room where a judge was loudly calling his name: “Baby, you KNOW I love you, but I got to go in the courtroom now, you know what I’m sayin? Dayum!” Some women!
4 hours after I entered 346 Broadway, I was walking back to the WTC PATH station. Manhattan Criminal Court is not a place that most people from Hoboken end up, and I hoped to never see it again. In spite of being in a beautiful building, it’s just a dismal, miserable place. Not that I’m really complaining. I know I got off with a small fine (even if I didn’t get to see the hot cop again).
Oh, and the last thing I did before leaving the building’s marble halls? Make a visit to the men’s room.