by Bruce McEwen, November 25, 2010
The kids were sitting next to their mother in the gallery when daddy shuffled in chained to some other prisoners and the guard seated them in the dock. The little girl squealed, “Look Mum — there’s Daddy!”
Dad smiled sheepishly at his wife and kids. He’d gone out to the bar with a friend after work, blown the rent money and got himself a DUI driving home. He’d done it once before, and now he was in big trouble.
“Shush!” Mom said, as the white-haired judge turned his dour look on the anxious little family. The bailiff, an old deputy with half-a-dozen hash marks on his sleeve, told the young mother she’d have to take the kids outside if she couldn’t keep them quiet.
The wife and kids had come to court on the bus, because the family car had been impounded when Dad got arrested leaving the bar. The impound fee, by itself, was more money than the family earned in a month, and it was going up by the day. Impounded cars are a nice windfall to the court-connected vultures who operate the impound lot. This vehicle was only worth about $1,500 but this little family now owed more than that to the Impound Man in towing and storage fees.
Mom couldn’t afford a babysitter, so she had to get the kids up early and bring them to court with her. Mom and her squirming kids were going to have a long wait because the judge was going through the cases alphabetically and the family name started with a Y.
The judge was still in the Bs and it had already been a long day for the kids.
He called the case of Jade Bennett, “Mr. Jade B. Bennett, formerly of Boonville now of Fort Bragg. He's been crazy for a long time, one of many mentally ill men and women who pass in and out of the County Jail every year.
A lawyer took a tentative step forward, hung his head and cleared his throat apologetically. It was Eric Rennert of the Public Defender’s office. He murmured discreetly, “Your honor, that’s the 1368.”
A 1368 is a hearing to determine if a defendant is mentally competent to stand trial.
Some lawyers were chatting quietly along the rail. One lawyer said to the other, “I hear the 1368 is really something. I guess he turns into a real animal and says things you wouldn’t believe.”
“He hasn’t been transported yet, your honor,” Mr. Rennert said.
Jade Bennett, as Judge Henderson understood, was too unpredictable to be transported with the other prisoners. They required a special detail of guards. At the Jail they often have to be housed by themselves in the iso cells.
“We’ll pass it for the moment,” the judge said. “Calling the case of Aaron Lincoln — is Mr. Lincoln present?”
“Eric Rennert of the Public Defender’s office for Mr. Lincoln who is present and in custody,” Rennert confidently answered. “At this time, your honor,” Rennert continued briskly, “we’d like to continue the Preliminary hearing until December 7th with the provision we could be sure Dr. Rossoff is present at the time…?”
Dr. Rossoff is the County psychiatrist. Lincoln was another 1368. Rennert seems to be the Public Defender's 1368 specialist.
Judge Henderson gave his assent and moved along.
“Calling Mr. Jethro Lloyd,” the Judge said.
“Keith Faulder for Mr. Lloyd, who is present and in custody, your honor.”
The courtroom was crowded, as it often is in these troubled times, and there were distractions within the crowds of defendants and lawyers and family members yakking in the halls at the top of their lungs and in the courtroom in hushed gushes. Rumors are always rampant and you can’t help but get wind of what’s coming, even if you’re just a kid, and the little boy sitting with his mom and sister heard enough to poke his little sister and say: “They’re bringing up the 1368! They say he turns into an animal, Jenny!” Jenny giggled. For the kids, the show was a lot more interesting than their school's Show and Tell.
Mr. Faulder was apologizing to the judge for having been absent the past few days, having suffered a death in his family that required an urgent trip to Texas. The alternate public defender, Mr. Berry Robinson, was unhappy.
He said, “Until Mr. Faulder interfered, my office was handling the case, your honor. Now, we must acknowledge a conflict of interest.”
Henderson said, “The court has in its file a recall for the bench warrant.”
Faulder said, “He [Mr. Jethro Loyd] came to me and said he couldn’t find his name on the calendar. I spoke with the alternate public defender and learned a warrant had been issued…”
We could hear little Jenny say, “Momma, does the 1368 really turn into an animal?”
Momma’s hubby was trying to say something to her, pointing with his lips at some fly on the wall and rolling his eyes – which is strictly forbidden – and she was distracted. A correctional officer gave Daddy a cold look of warning and Daddy left-off trying to communicate with his wife.
Mr. Faulder said, “I filed the motion to get the warrant recalled, your honor.”
Henderson said, “Mr. Faulder, will you be handling the case, then?”
“Yes, your honor. I would like to put this on for setting.”
Translation: “I might need some time to go over this — please…?”
Granted. Come back Friday.
“What kind of animal does he turn into?” Jenny wondered.
“A great huge baboon,” the boy chortled “with a purple butt!”
“You watch your mouth, Buster,” Mom scolded. She hadn’t even heard what the kids were talking about – just the “butt” word.
To a child, an early morning courtroom with its shuffling coffles of prisoners and their armed escorts, the room and halls crowded with anxious families, the bustling, sharp-faced lawyers, and an irritable grandpa-looking man in black robes barking out numbers and names must be like stepping into an alternate universe. Little Jenny hadn’t eaten her breakfast because she wasn’t used to getting up and being hustled off at anywhere at daybreak only to find her proud daddy cowed and locked up like a bad dog on a chain. I’d been on the bus, too, and overheard some of these personal details being discussed en-route to the Courthouse.
Her brother heard the snick-snick-snick of the shackle chain sliding on the marble floor. “Here he comes, Jen! The 1368! They’re bringing him in!”
Jenny shot out of her seat and into the safety of her mother’s lap.
“Get back,” the Sergeant of the Guard shouted into the crowd. “You, too, sir,” he warned a nosey reporter.
“Make this one quick,” the Sergeant advised the Bailiff impatiently.
The 1368 was somewhat of a disappointment. He looked commonplace despite the un-barbered hair and beard. Some of the lawyers looked crazier. The 1368 was clad in chartreuse coveralls that were positively radioactive in their florescence. He had a length of chain for a belt that locked his hands at his waist. Deputies on either side of him grasped fists-full of his uranium-colored shirtsleeves.
Judge Henderson quickly called the matter, the perpetual matter of Mr. Jade Bennett case.
Jade Bennett seemed to rise to the height of his notoriety.
Little Jenny buried her face in her mother’s neck.
Her brother's eyes were like saucers.
Mr. Rennert said, “Your honor, I don’t believe Mr. Bennett can rationally assist in his own defense. He seems to be having hallucinations and his comments are incoherent.”
Henderson said, “Very well, then. All criminal proceedings in this case will have to be suspended until Dr. Rossoff has had a chance to make a psychiatric evaluation of the defendant.”
The 1368 began to speak and Jenny clapped her hands over her ears. Even Judge Henderson seemed to brace grimly for an incoherent tirade.
“What I said,” Bennett began, “was that I never accepted the appointment of the public defender”—
“Just a moment, Mr. Bennett,” Henderson said. “If you will”—
“I never accepted the appointment, so how can he say I need an evaluation or anything else?”
Mr. Bennett's comments were not irrational.
Rennert added hurriedly, “And we have no objection to having only the one evaluation done, your honor.”
Apparently the case for mental incompetence was so obvious a second opinion wasn’t needed, although Mr. Bennett was not incoherent. The children seemed disappointed.
Mr. Bennett’s guards hustled him away. On his way Mr. Bennett paused to say hello to a woman he apparently knew. Or maybe it was a case of mistaken identity, because the woman, having looked the 1368 in the eye, turned to stone, and the guards shoved Bennett out to door.
Judge Henderson said, “Is the Edwards case ready yet?”
The children fidgeted. If the judge kept going back up the alphabet, he’d never get to the ‘Y’s! There was a long silence.
The clock froze on the wall.
Jenny said, “Can I have some gum?”
Eventually, Henderson said, “What about Mr. Howe, Mr. Jacob B. Howe?”
Again, Mr. Rennert spoke up for the unfortunate.
Mr. Howe had been called before. But, by now, Mr. Rennert had had time to apprise Mr. Howe of his prospects from the Deputy DA on duty, a Mr. Gardner, a zealous-looking young dude. A lot of Young Republicans, their heads full of punitive desire and the idiot worldviews of Limbaugh and Beck, begin their careers as prosecutors. If they have any brains, by the time they're forty they're working as defense lawyers.
Young Mr. Gardner said, in a passive voice which I couldn’t immediately track — I think he said, “apparently in a fit of rage he threatened his father over a vehicle, and said he’d burn the house down. But the deal was that he’d plea to the idle threats in exchange for our empty promises.”
“Oh!” Judge Henderson said with a smile, “Here’s Mr. Kubanis. Let’s return to the Sunny Edwards matter, why don’t we? Mr. Kubanis, are you ready?”
“Aye aye, judge,” said Al Kubanis, who learned his lawyering in the US Navy.
Ms. Edwards’ case has been on the backburner at the County Courthouse since sometime shortly before the Marines stormed the halls of Montezuma. The click of her high heels, her wryly engaging smile are a familiar part of the Courthouse scene. She may have taken a couple of pills and can’t lay hands on her prescription bottle, so the cops snap on the cuffs and haul her in. Mr. Kubanis was saying he thought it odd that Ms. Edwards supposed co-defendant was having his case heard in Fort Bragg.
Judge Henderson admitted he was “a bit confused” as well. “Can we pass this until we get some clarification?”
“How about Mr. Hanes, Mr. Ross Hanes?”
Mr. Ross been sitting with his mother and right on cue, as he came to his feet, his lawyer, Justin Petersen, came in.
“Justin Petersen for Mr. Hanes who is present and out of custody, your honor.”
“Gardner for the People, your honor, and we’ve reached an agreement. Since he has no prior adult criminal convictions, if he’ll plead to the criminal threat, we’ll drop the exaggerated allegations.”
Like young Mr. Howe before him, young Hanes had, in a fit of rage, threatened his father, but over a woman, rather than a vehicle. I made a note to myself to read the file on this one. Father and son competing for the affections of the same lady? In both cases the no-contact restraining orders were reduced to peaceful-contact-only orders. There would be anger management classes for both, their right to bear arms was rescinded and each would get an “Irish holiday” — two weeks in jail.
A friend of mine had been in a boating accident. I left the Courthouse and went by his house. The boat was there, but he was at the hospital with his family. Apparently, the boat had run over him and he’d been caught in the propeller. When I got back to the Courthouse, a new crowd had taken the seats. The children and Mom were gone. Judge Henderson was lecturing a young man named Hogan on the evil of home invasions. Since the judge was going to the trouble of moral instruction, he must have felt the defendant was salvageable.
The judge said that this kind of crime had become altogether too prevalent, and that something needed to be done to make it clear that the courts were not going to countenance any more of it.
Eldon Hogan, 19, was a home invader.
“They come into these people’s houses at their most vulnerable time,” the judge said, “when the whole family is at home, usually just sitting down to dinner.
“These people are all terrorized whether it’s the one with the money and marijuana or just the children. We’ve seen these incidents result in great bodily injury, violent beatings, people being tied up and even tortured. And it’s not just the targeted individual who suffers. It’s like the wild west up here and I don’t think it’s something we should have to put up with. We don’t want to live this way. We’re tired of the violence and fear in the county. And the fact that Mr. Murphy had marijuana, and that it was probably illegal marijuana doesn’t make it right; it doesn’t give Mr. Hogan the right to go breaking in and try to steal it.”
Henderson paused to let his words sink in, if they sank in.
The people in the gallery murmured assent. They might have been Hogan's family, they might have been his victims.