So I finally got my day in court. Traffic court, to be precise.
My day in court was a Tuesday. The ticket I got actually said Saturday, so I called to voice my concerns, and they said, “Actually, that’s not the court date. That’s just the deadline to schedule your court date.”
So I said, “OK, can I schedule the court date?”
And they said, “I guess. What day’s good for you?”
And I said, “That depends. How long does this usually take?”
And they said, “It’s hard to say. You should probably clear your whole afternoon.”
The reason I had to go to traffic court was that I’d allegedly made an illegal left turn off a street that I only went down in the first place because of detours, and, apparently, that left was not part of the detour, despite everyone in front of me making that turn. But the cop didn’t see everyone making the turn; he saw me. He didn’t see everyone after me, because he was busy giving me a ticket, and he didn’t see everyone before me, because, well, I don’t know. He didn’t respond well when I asked him.
So I had to prepare my legal argument. Yes, I’ve heard of lawyers, but I was advised in this situation not to get a lawyer. Not by a lawyer. By everyone around me, who was sure I could handle this myself. They weren’t that helpful in addressing my actual concerns, though. Every single person I spoke to said, “But everyone makes that turn!”
And I said, “Great. Can I use that argument in court?”
They also kept telling me, “Tell the judge you didn’t see the sign.”
I’m not going to say that. I’m not going to be dishonest in court. I’m going to say something honest, like, “I didn’t see the cop.” Because that is honest. If I would have seen the cop, I one-hundred percent would not have made that turn.
But I’m a writer. So I came up with a whole argument, and I wrote it up on a piece of paper in case I’d be too nervous to remember it on the spot, and I was going to read it in front of the judge, or else say, “Hey, listen: I wrote up this whole argument. Would you rather just read it yourself?” And maybe he’d take it and read it and say things like, “Why are there jokes in this?”
My court appointment was set for 1:30 p.m., but when I got there, I realized that everyone’s appointment was set for 1:30. And it didn’t start at that time anyway, which is just as well, because a lot of the people who were there to fight their traffic tickets probably had to take the bus. And I had to find parking. Because apparently, the courthouse is in a part of the town where the only parking available is metered parking with a 2-hour limit, and no one knows how long this is supposed to take. Though I had some idea. I tried out for jury duty once, and the judge swore up and down (in court) that we shouldn’t worry, because even if we got selected, the whole process would take less than a month.
There’s two-hour parking.
But I think that’s the whole plan. There’s nowhere to park, so they can give you a parking ticket, which you can go back inside to fight since you’re there anyway, and then get another one.
Finally, the judge came in and started calling up cases, though no one involved in any of these cases made any effort to be heard by the audience or give us any background into what they were talking about. It was kind of hard to follow.
In fact, the whole situation is designed to stress you out. The entire time that you’re waiting for your turn, you’re in a room with hard benches and all kinds of people whose stories you don’t know, and there’s a cop standing there, and a judge, and two ladies sitting on either side of the judge, but lower down, doing who-knows-what on computers—it might be related to the case, or it might not be. It could be that this is just where they work because there were no offices left in the building when they were hired, and it annoys them that people keep coming in every day at 1:30 to argue when they’re trying to get work done.
But it wasn’t any kind of exciting. It was all kinds of procrastination. Lawyers would come up, talk for two minutes, and get their court dates pushed off. I could tell which people were the lawyers, because they were the ones wearing suits. I’d read an article beforehand that said you should dress up a little. But as it is, I was the best-dressed person there who was not a lawyer, and I just had my regular button-down shirt and dark pants. I was going to put on a tie, but I was running late and I realized that my shirt was the kind where the collar tips are buttoned to the shirt, and I didn’t have time to deal with that.
(I also brought a Tehillim and a checkbook, because I didn’t know which way it would go.)
But some people there had apparently not read that article at all. They were not taking things seriously. In fact, one guy not only had ripped jeans, but while his lawyer was talking, he had to be asked to take his headphones out. Twice. And one lawyer got up and said, “My client isn’t here, and I don’t know how to reach him.”
You don’t know how to reach him?! I had twelve separate legal teams I didn’t even ask for hunting me down and sending me letters the day I got a ticket. You don’t know how to reach your client?
QUESTION: If the judge mispronounces your name, and you correct him, is that a point in your favor or a point against? I will tell you that if you take that opportunity to ask this question to his face, it’s a point against.
But the judge asked me if I wanted to plead guilty. Now on the surface, this sounds bad. But basically, either I could argue my innocence and the case could go either way, or I could plead guilty, pay almost five times the stated value of the ticket (which was still cheaper than the lawyer I’d spoken to), and not get the points on my license. And arguing one’s innocence without a lawyer is, according to the schedule, the last thing of the day. And I was parked at a meter. That’s how they get you.
Wait, so who pays the amount on the ticket, exactly? You’re either innocent and pay nothing, or you plead guilty and pay way more. This whole thing is a scam to make money.
They don’t want my version of what really happened. They don’t want the truth. The truth takes time, and, honestly, traffic cases are boring. And I don’t want to tell them what really happened, because what I would tell them is that everyone makes that left, and then they would then put a cop there and start raking in the money, which is all they want in the first place. They’re not going to fix that corner, because it’s not actually dangerous but it is a moneymaker. So instead, I paid money that is probably going to go straight to the Commission of Doing Everyone’s Gas Line for Some Reason and Closing Roads so this can happen again.
The logic doesn’t even make sense. I’m guilty and therefore I don’t get points?
Think about it: Why do they issue points? Isn’t a fine enough? If you litter, there’s a fine, not points also.
And the answer is that some people have money, so a fine won’t bother them at all. That’s why there’s the penalty of points.
But if you can easily just pay extra and have the points removed, then how do they help?
So basically, you have to show up to court and show that you’re ready to fight, so the judge should look at you and look at the ladies next to him trying to get work done, and say, “Oh, no; not another extended conversation about a traffic ticket. How much would it cost us to make this go away?”
Can any profession do this? Like sometimes one of my students comes over to me and says, “You don’t want to read another essay on this topic, do you?” and I say, “Not really.” And he says, “So how about I don’t do it?” And I say, “Sure! For points!”
So I guess it is kind of the same.
But what is there to complain about? The court is a very efficient system. For example, the day after I went, I got a letter in the mail that said, “Official Legal Notice.” So I opened it, worried that maybe I’d misunderstood the verdict. And it said, “This is to notify you that your court case has been moved to yesterday.”
From when? I called you like three weeks ago. I knew this already. Who are you sending this to?
This is what my ticket is paying for
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of seven books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com. Read more of Mordechai Schmutter’s articles here.