Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Court House Debacle

Yesterday was quite possibly the most frustrating I've spent here at the Sun. Let me summarize before I go into great depth: I was in a Brooklyn courthouse for more than two hours and basically accomplished nothing by myself.

Now for the gory details. I was sent by another writer to get all the information I could about a second amendment case involving a Brooklyn hot dog vendor who had a loaded gun in his home — a basement of some apartment building. Apparently the arresting officers had been given an anonymous tip that this guy had a gun in his possessions, and since New York has some of the strictest gun levels in the land, they decided to pounce. This is a big deal right now because of a recent Supreme Court ruling that re-interpreted the Second Amendment to say people could use guns for self-protection. Well, here at the Sun we've been trying to drum up a hubbub on various cases that could also be re-interpreted due to this somewhat landmark decision.

So I was first sent to this Brooklyn court house where I was to "get every single file involving this guy's case." Of course, when I got through security at this courthouse (at every courthouse you must pass security and some make you give up your cell phone, which is extremely annoying) I was promptly told the files for this particualr case were at a different court house that was luckily just down the street.

So I plugged in my ipod and started my trek to a different court, the criminal court of Brooklyn. As many know, I've had some experience in these halls — well at least the Montgomery County version of these halls — as part of my program days. I should have known something was up when I had my ipod on shuffle and "Frustration" by the Mamas and the Papas came on randomly.

The criminal court of Brooklyn.

I get through security at this court house, which thankfully does not require giving up your cell phone (more on this later). I went to the information desk there, thinking this would be the end of my journey. I figured once I reached the window, I would get my files and head on back to the office. Obviously, i was wrong.

Now as I was waiting in line, I noticed just how miserable these people looked. Everyone working there had a serious case of the Mondays and were being pretty rude to some people. Although, there was a guy ahead of me who was facing some sort of charge and trying to get the files on his own case, and yet for some reason didn't bring any form of identification. He wanted this court house employee to just give him the files on the basis of trust (his words). Just think about that for a second: a guy just committed a crime and a court house employee who sees thousands of criminals a week like him is supposed to just have some trust in him. The only way I could see anything like that happening would be if the court house employee had recently smoked a solo bowl.

But to be fair to the information window people, they were actually not the problem for me. Once I got the window, I was promptly given instructions to go to another room down the hall, where all the files were stored. He wasn't cheerful about it, but he had quickly taken care of me.

Well I walked down this hallway and to the door, where I was met by a security guard, telling me I was at the wrong room. I asked where it was. He didn't know. I then turned to my right and saw it was literally right next to me. I wanted to call this security guard an idiot, but I hadn't noticed the door either (personally I think my mistake is a little more excusable since I don't work within spitting distance of said door).

Of course, when I turned toward this door a the clerk of courts (the very man I was looking for) was walking out the door for his lunch break. I begged and pleaded with him to just help me out real quick, but of course this is city government so lunch breaks just don't get ignored. And frankly, I understood where the guy was coming from. I probably would have done the same thing if I were in his position looking at a young journalist. But here's what got me steamed. It was about 12:45 pm when I was outside his door, and this clerk told me it was best I come back at 3 p.m. If I had thought of quicker my response would have been "That's not a damn lunch break, that's a friggin siesta douchebag." But of course, I didn't actually say this. I just bowed my head, reluctantly accepting my fate of being stuck in this court house for another couple of hours.

I passed the time by listening to some tunes and a phone call to Battey, who along with Matt, is trying to convince me to move out to the mountains for the winter (I haven't reached a decision yet, but it's a definite maybe).

Rocky Mountain high?

To my surprise, the clerk showed up from his lunch break at around 2 p.m., but refused to open the door for me. Instead, he was cursing under his breath about me waiting outside the clerks office while he was on his lunch break. Once I heard this, my polite waiting game was over. Immediately I repsonded with a "God forbid you do your job as a public servant." I don't think he was very happy about that.

So I continued to wait outside this door until finally at 2:15 a woman, who I'm assuming was the administrative assistant of the clerk, opened the door for me. I started explaining to her (politely) what I needed and almost as quickly, she rudely shot back with "you can't just have all the files from a case. I don't what court you've been to before but I've been here a long time and I'm not losing my job because of you." To say I was taken aback would be an understatement.

I then asked what I could see. She said I could only see a copy of the complaint and that she would not go to the trouble of photcopying anything else for me. At this point, I had pretty much reached my limit. I had politely waited over an hour for these people and now I was getting rudely escorted away. It was time to make a scene. As many know, this is usually a winning strategy for me.

So I demanded to speak to this woman's superior. And of course, the superior was the man who had earlier muttered under his breath. I positioned myself for a lengthy verbal battle. He told me, "You can't just have everything from this guy's file. There's a rap sheet in here and stuff like that so you can't just rifle through this man's file." I responded, telling the man (now loudly because I was no longer in a jovial mood) then I'd like to see everything I'm allowed to see. I knew this would piss off said clerk because he'd already been pissed I was waiting outside his door after lunch and he also knew it was his job to do things like this.

But, shame on me for thinking a city employee would do anything remotely close to what protocol calls for. He said I would have to request specific parts of the file and then he could get them for me. I started listing things off the top of my head (frankly, at this point I didn't know what I was saying expect using words like defendant and motions and depositions, all the things I've heard my dad say over the years). He told me I needed to go to some other office to get what I wanted. I knew he was wrong, so I then began to tell him about a little document called the United States Constitution. In it, it says all court filings are for public record. It's the reason why when Michael Jordan filed for divorce the world found out about how he had a different woman in every city he played in (and yes, I told him this exact story).

I would have loved to bludgeon these people with an axe looking like this.

It was at this point that I called up the reporter who had sent me here in the first place and gave him the lowdown on what was going on. He decided he should come down to the court house and figure out what the deal was. While waiting for him, I went to the office the clerk had told me to go to, only to find out I had been in the right place and the clerk was mistaken. When the actual reporter got there, we went straight to the clerk, who again told said reporter that he couldn't have the files.

Then, this reporter did what I should have done. He asked to go even higher than the clerk and asked to speak with the bureau chief (he had done this before and calmly knew all the bullshit channels he had to go through to get what he wanted). Upon seeing the bureau chief, I think it hit all these nitwit city bureaucrats that myself and this other reporter were not going away. so they let us see the whole file, only we weren't allowed to look at the rap sheet and we weren't allowed to take the file out of the office. This meant no photocopying.

Myself and the reporter then proceeded to write in pen every word of this file, which took about 30 minutes. As for me, I was actually a little embarrassed that I had gone through everything I had gone through and ended up not being able to get the file. It was like calling home to Daddy to clean up my dirty work. In Potomac terms, it was like a rich Jappy girl calling Daddy (in this instance we'll call him Lee) and asking him to bail her out of a alcohol citation.

Now if you've made it through this whole post, I want you to scroll up and look how long it is. Peopl wonder why the government is so messed up, and this provides a perfect illustration. I was essentially told there was too much red tape to accomplish what I set out to do, only to spend basically an entire afternoon proving to these city bureaucrats that I could actually do it. Now imagine people who are seeking relief from the government due to the ever increasing terror associated with the national economy.

It's just maddening that these city bureaucrats can get away with treating the public, the people who they work for, like this. I don't exactly like my job right now either, but you don't see me snarling at employees. And the sad part about all this is that clerk and that woman are probably making more money now than I will make yearly for the next few years. Oh, the life of a journalist.

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