Oh, the things you learn in court

One of the most depressing things for a reporter to cover –especially during the holidays — is court.

I recently sat in on Johnstown City Court’s Tuesday morning proceedings for a couple of hours with the specific intent of covering one particular person’s criminal matter.

Of course I got that. But I also got a whole lot more drama, seated on a hard City Hall wooden bench that would break down any good man.

There’s lots of paper shuffling going on. There’s people standing sheepishly in front of the magistrate for minor pot possession charges that wouldn’t be necessary in a different state.

Just about every case called was adjourned until like January or February.

I wasn’t sure if this was because City Court Judge Brett Preston felt especially charitable at the holidays, or that’s the way it’s always been done. I suspect it was mostly the latter. I don’t know. I’m a pretty sickeningly law-abiding citizen, but I would think if I was a defendant, I would want the criminal thing going on in my life to be over as quickly as possible.

One guy had his case adjourned until February so that he could pay for his eventual hefty fine through his tax refund. I guess the state giveth and the state taketh away.

Most of the people packed into City Court were dressed far worse than their lawyers. Nobody expects anyone to put on a three-piece suit to question their open-container charge, but isn’t this indicative of the class system in America?

One of Johnstown’s finest calls the defendant’s name and the accused stands at attention with their counsel in front of the judge. One defendant didn’t bother to take his woolly winter hat off until reminded by his assigned counsel. Spectators can’t hear a thing –not like on TV’s best law dramas — which is probably a good thing for that depressing factor. Sometimes a lawyer would also shout out a name in an effort to meet with their client privately just to the right of the judge, which was very distracting.

Sometimes, one of the defendants would exalt ever so slightly — as if he had just scratched off a winning lottery ticket — followed by an audible  comment like, “I’m outta here.”

Probably another adjournment.

Many times, the defendant would have their charge reduced to something not even resembling the original charge. Lucky them.

I’m reminded whenever I cover court — and I’ve reported on a myriad of civil and criminal proceedings and trials over the years — that this is the way justice has been done for centuries in America. People trudge into courtrooms waiting their turn to face punishment. Disorderly conduct, drunk driving, wife beating. It’s just a little more quiet, sanitized and politically correct these days. There’s still the watchful bailiff, the privileged law community and the poor slobs who got themselves in a heap of trouble. There’s just no more judges shooting revolvers into the ceiling anymore like in the old Wild West days.

∫ The Fulton County Center for Regional Growth is reporting it’s doing much better financially these days. That’s actually a good thing for everybody. Most people probably don’t even know what the CRG is, like they don’t know who their local congressional and state legislative representatives are. But a healthy CRG will work even harder to bring awesome jobs to this stagnant part of upstate. It’s all good. Decent jobs are definitely what the good people of Fulton County deserve this time of year and into the new year.

∫ Writing the word “Christmas” in my news stories used to be a no-brainer for me. Now I’m not so sure anymore. If I write a story and talk about Christmas, should I be including references to Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or even Festivus as well? Or should I just be writing that people are taking part in “holiday” celebrations and functions around Dec. 25? It’s a conundrum facing many on this side of the newsroom Dell.

Taking a calculated risk here: Merry Christmas to our readers!

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