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Friday, August 12, 2011

Wherein The Court Reporter is Used to Beat the Defendants About the Head and Shoulders

Having lurched our way through another work week, we find ourselves standing at the cusp of another glorious weekend. What shall we do with this time? Shall we spend the weekend in yoga pants, laying on the couch? Shall we continue, to the open-mouthed horror, no doubt, of the people downstairs, to practice the clarinet with the windows open?

Is there really room in this town for another Klezmer musician?!

And what about Naomi?

If only there was some way of knowing…

Silly me! There is! There is a way of knowing! Join me – here, hold this – whilst we gaze deeply into my iPod, for the iPod, set on “shuffle” and played during my commute, portends the future.

Do I really believe this?

Sure. Why not.

Shhhh. Let’s listen.

Frankenstein by Edgar Winter
Right Place Wrong Time by Dr. John
Colleen by The Heavy
Bad Romance by Lady GaGa
Supermassive Black Hole by Muse
Rumour Has It by Adele
Are You Alright? By Lucinda Williams

Groovy, yet somehow ominous. Stop at the liquor store on the way home.

Oooh, and pick up some of that salted caramel ice cream, would ya?

And now, a quick story.

A number of years ago, I worked as a court reporter in central Wisconsin.

My second case gone to trial centers around allegations of animal abuse. Photos of skinny, scabbed cows knee-deep in ice and muck took over my life.

I learned enough about cow’s stomachs to make me appear to be quite bovine-savvy, should conversation ever veer in that direction.

I also learned that my judge was, if not entirely deaf, nearly so.

The defendants were a pair of second generation Poles with a last name sorely lacking in vowels. Central Wisconsin is a profoundly rural area, and while they both had been born in the U.S., Polish was spoken at home and their English was heavily accented.

Both Pole One and Pole Two lived on what could be referred to, loosely, as a farm. From the photos, however, it more closely resembled the perfect location for a horror movie, everything stark, broken, covered with barbed wire, discarded animal traps, rusted metal buckets.

They were thin, dirty individuals – think “Ed Gein” without the good looks. They wore polyester leisure suits, shirts buttoned to the Adam’s apple. Their hair appeared to have been cut at the kitchen table with the household scissors, their dirty fingernails pared down with pen knives. Their faces were dark, weathered by sun and wind. They both seemed to have misplaced their teeth (or at least the front ones).

They both chewed tobacco but were never seen spitting.

It was my first job with this particular judge, an elderly man filling in for a judge on vacation.

My first clue to the interim judge’s deafness came when the veterinarian took the stand. After covering the formalities – name, education, years in business – she began describing the conditions of the milk barn.

From the defense table, Pole One speaks up: “She’s a liar.”

“She can **** my ****,” says Pole Two, seated next to him, “and when she’s done wit’ dat she can cook my dinner.”

As a quick aside, I’m not “asterisking” out the words here because they are dirty but because I suspect they are in Polish. Whatever P2 said, it is not a compliment, never mind the fact that it is being blurted out during testimony – a big no-no in court.

What the court reporter can hear, the court reporter must write. I pound furiously on my machine to capture the questions from the attorneys, the testimony of the vet, and the defendants’ remarks.

The second comment comes just minutes later, after the vet states that several of the cows would have to be put down.

“She’s a got-dam liar,” says Pole One. His attorney leans into him, hisses at him.

My hands fly as I struggle to properly identify the speaker and enter his words into the record.

I look up to see if the judge is catching any of this.

He is not, but a quick look at the jury tells me that they are.

I begin to cough, repeatedly, something most judges know to be a sign that a break is needed.

He calls the break.

“Judge Wapner,” I say, chasing him down the hall, “I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but both defendants have been talking during testimony, loudly enough that I written it into the record. I believe the jury is hearing it as well.”

“Is that so?” he chuckles.

“Yes,” I say. “The next time they do it, if it’s okay with you, I’ll start coughing. Then you can ask me to read the record back, and you can catch them at it.”

“Good idea,” he says.

We go back into the courtroom, and as I settle into my chair, hands on the keys, the judge clears his throat.

And I begin to write.

“My court reporter informs me that the two defendants have been talking during testimony,” he says “and that she has written their words into the record.”

I look up from my machine in time to see P1 and P2 glaring at me.

I look up at the judge, who beams benevolently at me.

And winks.

“If she is forced to continue to write your comments,” he says, looking sternly down at the defendants, “I shall have you taken out of this courtroom. Do you understand me?”

The brothers, who have grinned at me flirtatiously all morning, now scowl openly.

Pole One mutters a slew of uncomplimentary things about me, which I enter into the record.

Over the lunch hour, I request – and receive – a bailiff escort to and from my car for the remainder of the trial.

I miss being a court reporter.

31 comments:

Leenie said...

FYI-Naomi is Alright. Rumor Has It she's hanging out with Frankenstein who is getting over a Bad Romance with Colleen. They were last seen eating salted caramel ice cream at the Wisconsin state fair.

I'd say court reporters are vastly underpaid. But don't ask Judge Wapner.

Joshua said...

That crazy Wapner. Happy to say that neither of those Polish farmers are my relatives. Mine have all their teeth.

Oh, and no Polish descent.

Macy said...

What with the endless news coverage of riots this side of the Atlantic, it sounds as if you iPod is channelling a visit to an electrical goods store in central London round about midnight.

powdergirl said...

Poor cows. I'm sure you convinced the judge to put P1 and P2 down and send the cows to a cattle spa for a nice refreshing make-over? I just don;t know how people can treat animals so cruelly.

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

Clueless judges, so great for the justice system. My dad was a court reporter for something like 40 years, but he never had a story this colorful!

Simply Suthern said...

I've never sat thru a real court case. Only traffic court. I've never even been a juror.

I spose I have missed out.

alwaysinthebackrow said...

Hmmm-and you are no longer a court reporter-why?

Having spent a good portion of my life in court, I have the utmost respect for court reporters. And perhaps not as much for judges.......but it IS interesting sometimes. We often say that if we wrote a book, it would have to be as fiction, because no one would believe it was true.

Pearl said...

It's true that the weirdest things happen in court, to and by the weirdest of people... I would still be one if, upon my return to Mpls, I could find a job. Unfortunately, I couldn't, so to pay the bills I took an office job, stopped practicing machine shorthand, and it all just kind of fell apart from there...

:-)

Dawn @Lighten Up! said...

Gurrll! No wonder you can do a post a day. I bet your fingers fly! Great story. No one explores the subtle differences of the various species of North American Redneck quite like our Pearl.

jabblog said...

You have enough material for several novels, I'm sure:-)

Bossy Betty said...

Ohhhh....I really think they should base a TV show on you and your adventures of being a court reporter, Pearl!!

mrwriteon said...

Having been a newspaper reporter who covered the courts, court reporters, with their little fingers a-flyin' always fascinated me. In fact I wrote a feature about one of our local ones. I wrote it both because I was interested in what she did, and also because she was really hot. And I always wondered if the 'dirty stuff' got included. I guess it has to.

jenny_o said...

NOW the title makes all kinds of sense! I find your titles always worth paying close attention to.

And, I loved this: "second generation Poles with a last name sorely lacking in vowels".

Eva Gallant said...

Once again you've got me laughing out loud! You have such a great story-telling ability!

Mamma has spoken said...

As I read your description, I couldn't help but think of the brothers from 'Swamp People' who are probably the cat's meow now in their part of the woods. But it still doesn't make your brothers sound all that great....
So I'm guessing that the cows were awarded to the ASPCA?

Mamma has spoken said...

(sorry hit wrong key) If the cows were awarded to the ASPCA, guess two brothers are sad to see them go in more ways than one, if you know what I mean ;o)

Linda O'Connell said...

Judge Wapner, I can see and hear it all now. You are a hoot. Your life wpuld make agreat Reality TV show.

vanilla said...

Oh, Pearl, you have led (are leading?) a life fraught with hilarity! Laughing my **** off.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to take a wild guess here and say that these two brothers are just the type to go trolling for swamp heifers on any random night of the week. But it is just a wild guess...

Ian

Lynn said...

Still keeping me laughing!

Vapid Vixen said...

This makes me sad for America.

Dr. Cynicism said...

Instead of salted caramel ice cream, I'm digging into a pint of Ben & Jerry's Late Night Snack - fairly similar. Is that OK with you?

fishducky said...

Just discovered your post & am now a follower--you are a funny lady! I'm not with PayPal. Is there any other way to get your book?

Joanna Jenkins said...

A Court Reporter!?!?! You never cease to amaze me Pearl. You are a woman of many talents.

Hope all's well with you and you're having a good summer. jj

Leslie said...

Attorney here...I get it.

Pat said...

What - may I ask - haven't you done? And so young with it. Great stuff!

Bushman said...

Oh my I can see them now only my version is cross contaminated with a Dr Suess story!

Shelly said...

I always thought court reporting might be something interesting to go into when I retire from teaching, but now this story has given my second thoughts!

Susan in the Boonies said...

I have never been bovine savvy, and now sense a gaping cow sized hole in my formal education.

Stupid judge.

Poor beleaguered Pearl, needing to attempt cussing in Polish.

That's quite a funny story, and I'm awfully glad you made it to your car, without being forced into an impromptu Pole dance, if you know what I mean.

Kelley said...

That was so entertaining! Haha!! I love "got-dam". I feel like I'm right there with you. You must've been the best court reporter thar ever wuz.

Kathy's Klothesline said...

Toothless? I think they may have kamped here, but I thought they were local ......