Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I Get to Deal with a Little Hometown (non) Courtesy in LaMarque (Galveston County), Texas

Leaning on the unaware. That could easily be the title of this spot. Lawyer up or pony up. Another fitting title.

My daughter (D)- age 21, her boyfriend (bf) - age 19, and his brother (bro)-age 18 were on their way back from Galveston one beautiful day when the weather was still warm. Bf was driving; D was in the front passenger seat; bro was in the back seat.

In their ignorance of the law (no excuse), they had a partially consumed bottle of rum in an otherwise empty ice chest sitting on the back seat. They did not bother to put it in the trunk (which would have met the requirements of the law) because they thought that the lid was on the bottle as well as the ice chest, no one was consuming any alcohol, therefore there was no issue of open container. (That does seem kind of logical - but it is not the law.)

Bf gets stopped for speeding. The long and the short of the interaction between the state trooper and these young people was bf received a ticket for speeding and for being a "minor in consumption" (meaning the officer believed he had consumed alcohol illegally. Note - a parent can allow to be served or serve their under age child. I won't get off on a tangent of potential other charges such as injury to a child, etc. Also, if a person is married to a person of legal age, that person can drink.) Suffice it to say, the trooper had (1) no evidence of when alcohol was consumed or how it was obtained, and (2) if he had REAL concerns, he could have arrested bf for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). [Persons under 21 cannot consume ANY alcohol and drive - a much stricter standard than DWI - and when the time cutoff ends is outside the topic here.] Now, if the officer had concern about bf driving under the influence, rest assured he would have arrested bf.

D, who is NOT driving, gets a ticket for expired inspection sticker (which should have gone to bf - the driver - as drivers are responsible for the vehicle they operate even if it is not theirs), AND open container. (Yes - that container in the back seat.)

Bro - gets nothing. He is sitting right next to the ice chest containing the previously opened bottle of alcohol and he gets nothing (but the chance to drive the car. Trooper could not give bf a ticket for consuming alcohol AND let him continue to drive, could he?!)

So, bf tells me the story (but they leave out the bit about the tickets that D got.) I explain the law to them, & express how lucky they were not to get ticketed for open container & how bf was lucky not to be arrested for DUI. I research applicable law about the container (because they both argued with me about what open container means - gotta love 'em.)

"Court" date comes. The two go to the courthouse telling me that they are going to get a reset for bf because I was busy that day and could not help. (Remember, I do not know about D's tickets.)

Instead of a reset, they come back all upset. There was no "court" and they had to deal with a clerk named "Cyndi". I am told about D's tickets & how D was railroaded into pleading nolo that day so that she could have a payment plan to pay off the $500 fine on the open container. CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT?! She was told that if she did not plead guilty or no contest and she requested a real court, that she would have to come back the very next day for court and she had to bring the entire $500 (and they would not dismiss the inspection ticket even if the car had been inspected.) So, she signed up & pled no contest. (I cannot tell you how much this bothers me. Where has she been during my past 22 years of practice?!!!)

On the other hand, bf was told that he had to immediately pay $500 for his tickets, as well as be put on a payment plan for the balance. He assured "Cyndi" that he did not have that kind of money and requested to talk with the judge. After "Cyndi's" repeated attempts to badger this kid into signing a guilty plea and waiving his right to a jury, she told him he had to be back the NEXT DAY at a 1:30 court appearance with a lawyer (and that the lawyer had to bring a letter of representation.)

I hear the story (and after berating D for being less than forthcoming as well as playing in a field that I am somewhat knowledgeable - I know about rights though I know little about traffic court), and I agree to accompany them to the courthouse the next day.

We arrive to this little shack looking building near LaMarque High School. Although it has the name of a different judge on the sign, the paperwork shows that "Sonny James" is the presiding justice of the peace there. We go in.

The courtroom is VERY small, and we sit among about 10 others. I go to the restroom in which I encounter a woman & her small child discussing why the approximately 5 year old child does not have to wash her hands. (The soap dispenser was too high.) I return to the courtroom to see the woman & child seated at a table in front of the bench where the judge would sit. The woman starts calling out names. From this activity, based on my past experience, I believe that she is a clerk. (She is dressed in some stretch-type pants, has on a shirt that does not match - no suit or even an approximation of professional clothing.) I answer for bf; she looks at me then sets aside the envelope holding the ticket copy.

After calling the rest of the names, she calls bf's name again. I approach & stand next to her (even though there is a seat across from her. I assumed that was used for discussions between the prosecutor & the lawyers or the accuseds.) She instructs me to sit down. (She was a bit abrupt but I assumed I was not complying with the usual course of conduct due to ignorance so my bad.) She does not introduce herself; I do. She tells me that bf is guilty of the two charges then asks what I want to do. Hhmm. I ask if she is the prosecutor; she says yes. (Thank goodness I didn't have if she was the clerk. Can you imagine?! Given what followed, I can only guess I would have gotten out of there with my life.)

I proceed to tell her "the story", including what had occurred the prior day with D's case (but, of course, assuming she is an insider there I tempered it with "misunderstanding", etc.) She then gets loud & tells me what (she thinks) is the law of possession. She is going on & on so I interrupt, tell her I understand, but that . . . and I talk about relevant issues regarding possession that I won't bore you with. I mention D again. She says something to the effect that I need to just get over that and deal with the case I'm there in court on. As I try to explain the relevance, she interrupts and gets even louder asking me, "can we talk about the case on the docket today? Do you want to talk about this case?", etc.

Your mama told you that when asking for something – a favor, cooperation or whatever - that employing honey as opposed to vinegar is generally the better way to go. But at some point in her effort to try to humiliate me in front of D, bf, and the rest of the courtroom, I had had enough. I proceed to tell her that I will not tolerate her tone of voice, her surly attitude, and that I had been practicing 22 years and sincerely doubted that there was any aspect of criminal law of which she would have more knowledge than me. I admit that my tone made it very clear, if my words did not, that I was done with her berating me.

She held my eyes a few seconds & I felt mine narrow. I started to push back my chair when she suggested that she could dismiss the alcohol related charge upon bf's completion of an alcohol related course within 45 days, and that she would give a deferred probation for 45 days with a $240 fine / court cost that required completion of the driver safety school. I sat back down. This is generally what I what I wanted from the start - just sans the attitude.

So, the deal is set but we have yet to finalize the agreements because now we must return to the clerk of the day before's bull@#$* - the topic of my next post.

1 comment:

  1. sounds like a money grab more then a hall of justice.....


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