The façade of the courthouse is made entirely of windows. The only entrance is a revolving door, of course, and everywhere you look is steel and glass.
Irony doesn’t exist, for legal reasons.
My brother is 45 minutes early for his court date. He tells me this will be a “discovery,” and we both have no clue what exactly this will entail. His lawyer is 5 minutes late and arrives without any explanations.
Earlier, my brother, Mike, commiserated with his friend and fellow defendant, “We paid fifteen hundred bucks. You would expect this guy to be on time.”
“Yeah,” his buddy agrees, “I want my money back.”
Fifteen hundred dollars seemed like a cheap price to pay for justice to me. I wanted to say that if that’s all it costs, then they’re getting away with highway robbery, and cheaply. Only, they never robbed anyone and they certainly never assaulted a cop. Forget prison, everyone in court is innocent. But it’s true, and we forget that until it’s us standing in front of the judge.
Stereotypes exist because they’re often backed up by anecdotal evidence. The stereotype that Asians are good at math persists because Chinese speaking children are better at math than English speaking children. Chinese represents numbers with single syllables, and is completely straight forward – no numbers end in “teen,” and thirty is “three ten,” instead of a word that kinda resembles three. And while we’re dealing with numbers, there are more than a billion people in China, so what’s true for the Chinese is true for Asians, statistically speaking.
Mike and his friend stood outside their courtroom as the doors closed and a session started. They are both big, but not supersized big, so much as football-sized big. Mike’s hair is somewhere between dirty blond and mud brown and his personal grooming leaves a little to be desired. His patchy facial hair brings to mind either a mangy dog or a much-loved teddy bear, depending on how well you know him.
You know how you have to teach some children not to hurt their pet? I’m not calling Mike mentally challenged, but he had to learn about his own strength. He could always empathize, but it’s tough for him to scale down to the level of others. I think the phrase gentle giant works well for him.
The lawyer arrives. I assume he is late because he forgot his excuse at home, went back to look for it, and never found it. Either way, he says nothing and brings both boys into court.
In the hallway are doors to three other courtrooms in addition to the one my brother is in. I am standing next to a bank of payphones, leaning against one. Down the hall to my left are benches and even a tall table to stand at. To my right is the lobby, with one lone, older lady at the clerk’s desk between me and the revolving door.
Nearby is a black couple, about my age. I don’t say African-American because that requires a lot of assumption. Maybe they’re Afro-Caribbean or African-European, or Mediterranean, or just way better at tanning than me. I feel like it’s racist just looking at them in the courthouse. I want to close my eyes and pretend the only criminals here are white, so I’m not furthering stereotypes in my own mind. Oh no, I mean it’s not like I’m afraid of black people, I’d be okay if it was only black people in the courthouse, I mean, oh God …
Fifteen minutes later, my brother walks out with his entourage. They have to wait another hour because of jurisdictional procedures that the defendants’ counsel should have known. I stand with them, because family stands together even when it makes no difference. I’m there for moral support, no matter how much I want to add the prefix im-.
“I think they’re watching the video for the first time,” Mike says while motioning at his lawyer. The man calling himself a lawyer has slicked back hair that makes him look wet behind the ears as he stands at the table at the far end of the hallway. He was joined by the lawyer for the other defendant and they stared intently at a laptop.
There was only one real piece of evidence of the bar fight Mike was in, this video from the security camera. Mike had given it to his lawyer weeks ago, but here they watched it, evidently for the first time. I hated them almost as much as I did the woman behind the clerk’s desk.
The woman at the clerk’s desk, whom I feel safe in assuming was the clerk, had been chatting up a Hispanic guy half her age. He told her about his legal problems and she sympathized in a way that spilled her history in social work all over the interaction. I assumed they knew each other until she repeated his name, Juan, as if memorizing it. I stopped eavesdropping when another man walked up and she then happily tittered about both of them being named Juan. She called them Juan Jr. and Juan Sr., and I am pretty certain had no evidence of them being related. I wanted to be well out of earshot before she asked if they were both named Mencia.
Chloe, the latest lawyer (pun intended), walked up to the two boys and told them that Mike’s lawyer had an immigration case to get to.
“Don’t worry,” she said, “We hadn’t anticipated the jurisdictional issue, but I am up to speed on the case.”
Once Mike’s lawyer left, the other defendant mumbled, “This is fine, Chloe’s the one at the firm with the most experience.” Mike laughed and agreed, since we had watched them watch the video which they should have watched weeks ago. What it didn’t show was the eight hours Mike spent in prison before being charged. It didn’t show how he never had his rights read to him, or the woman answering the phones at the jail who refused to let my parents talk to Mike. It didn’t show her taunting him as he was being released, telling the entire precinct that “The big boy’s daddy wants him to call back when he can.”
While my brother reenters the courtroom, I told him I would be down the hall sitting on the benches so he knows where to look when he came out again. I write but I worry it doesn’t matter. Who reads anything but Grisham and Patterson best-sellers anymore?
I notice the lawyer next to me because of his pea coat. I bought one in the fall and a friend complimented me on the choice. Apparently my taste for the three-quarters length jacket would perfectly cover a suit coat. The guy next to me was a story-teller and made me wonder if I was only a J.D. away from my true calling.
“I had this one case,” he continued. “This beautiful girl walked into my office with her boyfriend. She was gorgeous. A few months later she was back in my office. It looked like she had lost thirty pounds. You see, what had happened was that her boyfriend took her to this party and there was heroin. He didn’t get hooked, but she did. Her parents went to court with her. She shuffled in like a ghost. They came over and talked to me and said, ‘You see that person over there? She’s not our daughter, she’s just some person. Our daughter is dead.’ I’ve seen everything. That was heartbreaking, and I’ve seen it all.”