Testifyin’

I recently observed that, in your youth, you know you have a dear friend if they help you move. At my age, if they show up to support you at a trial you have a keeper.

When I was talking about my day in court, someone made the incorrect assumption that I was the defendant.

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I was simultaneously insulted and flattered. “How Dare He!” thought my inner, bad girl vixen, as she peered with one eye thru her Veronica Lake hair swoop. No, I was the plaintiff at this small claims trial gig.

It was an act of supreme bravery on my part because I sued the landlord of my rent control building. In these parts, where rents are higher than most peoples mortgages, you must be insane to bite that hand. There is a point of no return for me in all things. A point at which I just can’t take it. In this case, it only happened after much research into my rights and what he could and couldn’t do in reprisal.

I wanted to send a message that not having working plumbing and electric on top of attempted mid-year illegal rent increases are not acceptable no matter how low your rent is. Those issues were only the tip of the iceberg that got me to the point of risking my home. I reluctantly accepted that the worst case scenario would mean living with my Mother. It must be mentioned that my mother was not overjoyed with that potential scenario.

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The theatrics of court have always fascinated me. Great litigators’ skill sets are rooted in the creative; they must be wonderful orators and writers. They also had the sense to acquire a secure day job. On this day there were no lawyers allowed, only the three that run the proceedings. “The players” brought to mind a polished jazz trio.

Trial by Jury WS GIlbertTrios work best with a chord player. Our judge on this morning was our piano player and leader. She had both hands working at all times. Vacillating between forte and leggiero depending on who was in front of her.

Her court clerk was supportive and the backbone of the court, exchanging glances with the judge and seemingly answering questions her honor hadn’t even asked. It was done with a mere nod betwixt the two. They were so in sync you could tell that this rhythm section had been together a long while. Our clerk walked her bass with knowledge and finesse.

Lastly in the trio was the brass. The bailiff was the muscle of the operation. Loud and in charge of every phrase he uttered. You could tell he thought it was his courtroom. Sometimes that trumpet was brashly fortississimo. He never cut the leader off, but had she been a vocalist he would have ended each tune with a flourish, making sure he was louder than any note she could utter. Perhaps it wasn’t conscious, but getting the last word was something of a character trait.

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When it was my turn to sit in, I was unbelievably nervous. I had prepared my book properly. It wasn’t perfect but due diligence had been done. My evidence was in one of my old lyric notebooks. I had made tabs in my notebook from sticky note strips, dividing the evidence into sections. These included pictures, emails, bank statements, and various other documents. No one that day had that amount of material.

When it was finally my turn the judged asked me questions and I answered. She seemed irritated for the very first time since the court started. Who knows why. We had been there since 8 am and it was nearing a time when a person might need a snack (or a scotch). No breaks for these cats. She asked me “when did you plan to give me the evidence?” I quickly handed the notebook over to the brass to give to her. I couldn’t believe it…I hadn’t come in at the right place. It wasn’t my fault! Or maybe it was…It’s a blur. It all happened so fast.

Her slight irritation seemed to ebb when she saw the book and the pictures of the destruction. It was then time for the defendant’s solo.

She nodded to him to take it. He said nothing. She then gave him another vamp and this time spelled it out clearly. “What do you have to add to these charges?”

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He finally answered: “Nothing.”

It was over. My best friend drove a hundred miles to be a support and a witness; she was never asked anything by the judge. Neither was my other witness.

I am a world class catastrophizer and the stress of this trial (which I had to postpone three times) was now over.

Last week I was notified by mail that I had won the case.

That trio’s standing gig will go on for many years. Jamming with them again isn’t on my must-do list, but just like some of my first sit-ins, no matter what clams had been laid down…I got through it.

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Now I must file a judgment and put a lien against him. I can’t afford an attorney, so guess who’s going to have to make another notebook? I hope it’s smaller—and, if need be, I’ll spring for real tabs.

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