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Jul 11 2011

Criminal Court Take Two

Hi guys ~

So, today  was  court day  ‘numero  dos’  out of the three  summons I’ve been issued thus  far for singing in the NYC  Subways. This one was from three months or so ago and the reason it  was issued  was a random, “Blocking Pedestrian  Flow of  Traffic” This was  from  the cop,  Officer  Chin, who needed to give someones a  summons so he wouldn’t get his ‘hiney’  kicked  by that  same  Amazonian  supervisor  they all  seem to be terrified of. I’m  certainly saving a whole lotta cops  butts these days  with all these tickets!

I had to be at the 54th st  Precinct/Community Court  building at  the inhuman  (for a musician) hour of 9:oo AM. That felt like the toughest  part honestly. Well, it was the  toughest part until I  saw the line of  people, that snaked  down the block and I  was told to  stand in it in the 90  degree heat underneath the blazing sun ’till whenever…  I love the heat, but  I gotta say, we  were  hurting out there. It was  beyond  hot. Today was one of our first  ‘heat  advisory’ days in NYC and here were  50 or so people  being told to stand in it indefinitely with no shade or cover or water whatsoever.  Every time  someone  would step out of  line to rest from  the sun in the shade of a building or parked  truck the cop in the doorway  would  yell out “Get back in line.  You all have to stay in line or else  we  wont’ know what order you all came in.  So stay in line and stop wandering off”  This  was  gonna be a long morning, I could  tell already.

After about 45 minutes of  the heat, the line and listening to a  gazillion  conversations  in  every language  except  English,  I  was  finally allowed in, I  assumed to go into the court room.  Ha, if life were  just that easy. I  went  to the security area  where  the  metal  detector  stood, the cop at the desk  took my  summons and said; “What are you here for?”

“Singing” I  replied

“Ok,  go  back  outside and we’ll  call you when we  have  room.  The  courtroom is  full right now” Seriously? Back outside to  stand in the heat again? Come on NYC, you jut have to stop issuing so many summons that you don’t have room to  deal  w/  us all.

I went back  outside and since I  was no longer required to be in ‘line formation’ I looked  around  for some  shade.  I  spotted a line of  shade  created by a small overhang on the courthouse,  stepped up to it and stood under it along  with four or five  other ‘offenders’ lined up like pigeons on a stoop.

A small raggedy white  guy, one of the few out there who spoke  English said; “So, what are you doing here? What  did they get you for?”

“Singing” I replied once again, feeling as we  should all just be  wearing  t-shirts  w/ our  accused  offense on it to make things  simpler. “How  about you?”

“Oh,  riding my bike” the  disheveled  guy  replied

“Riding your bike.  Really?  Where were you riding your  bike that they ticketed  you?”

“Riverside  Drive” the guy responded and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper that matched his ragged  style perfectly in it’s  disheveldness. “See, I  drew a map to show the judge. There’s no  reason you can’t  ride  there, see?” and he pointed to his hand drawn map on crumpled white  lined paper that was  surprisingly clear. I knew  exactly where he had gotten stopped and  it made no sense, it’s a park and he  was on a bike. “It’s just  money for the city”  the tousled  guy said  as  he wadded  his ‘ map’ back  up and stuffed it in his pocket. “I  don’t  get it. All this  time and  effort  ’cause I  was  riding my bike”

“Yeah, seems like a lot of nonsense  to me” I  agreed as I  looked  around at the crowd that had  grown and now included not only our  United Nations of  ‘offenders’  but now included  a  few mothers  with their  children,  old men and women in wheel chairs, a blind  man  with his  guide and  a woman with her wheelchair-bound son  who had  cerebral palsy.  For the life of me  I  couldn’t figure out what  some  of  these people could have possibly  done to  provoke  being  given a summons.  But what do I know about running a city…

Just  then one of the groups of people who had  gone in prior  to me  came out  en mass, all with matching  bright orange  plastic  vests on reading “NYC COMMUNITY CLEANUP” In their hands  they each  carried a  tool or a bucket full of  what I guess  was  paint.  Oh my God,  seriously they make  you  do manual labour  for city if you go in there?  I thought as I  watched  the group of men and women  lug  huge 5 gallon  buckets of paint, paint  rollers on long handles, street brooms and  buckets with cleaning supplies in them  down the courthouse  steps. They wandered out, slow  moving and  slightly stunned looking, parked their newly acquired accessories on the  sidewalk and waited in the sun.

Community Service NYC-Style

I  wondered as I looked at the group of about a dozen women and  men, what  they had done to be put to work like that  for the  city. I leaned  back on the  brick of the  building and tried to  stay cool  while I pondered  the possibilities and  prayed to God singing was  not one of the offenses included in the “Community Clean Up” program. Just then  I heard my name “Heidi Kole, Heidi Kole”

“Yes” I  perked up hoping this process might be  finally moving along.

“You can go in now and go through the metal detector”  Yay! I’ve never been so happy to have  someone  rummage  through my belongings and walk through a metal detector in my life. I was just so  grateful to be in the air conditioning and feel like things were moving.

I passed  the metal and ‘what’s in your bag’ test with flying  colours and took a seat  in the all-to-familiar  courtroom filled, per  usual, with every race, height, weight, gender…every type of person you an imagine. I sat there along  with everyone else for a  good  hour I guess, listening to case after  case; shop lifting,  aggressive panhandling, possession of drugs, prostitution, robbery etc.  As the people  went up one  by one I noticed  the judge  looked  oddly familiar. A relatively elderly man, not too  tall, white with wire-rimmed glasses with his judge robe haphazardly oddly slung on his somewhat small torso. He had a curiously centered air about him given  the rest of that energy in that room. I wondered to myself, have  I sung to him at  one point underground or was he the judge I saw  last time for the  summons  entitled “Unreasonable  Noise”?  Hmmmm…Either way I didn’t get a  bad  feeling from  the  guy, actually the opposite  wafted over me, like I knew him somehow. Odd, right? Just  then “Heidi Kole? Heidi Kole?”  my name  was  called again, followed by that tell  tale question-mark the pro-bono  lawyers always tack onto a name when  scanning a courtroom waiting area  for the next  client they have never  before seen in their lives and are about to represent.

“I’m here” I stood up and  inched my way out the rows of  wooden  benches we were  all sitting  on like  school children and  followed the thin,  super pale, almost  translucent  Jewish guy in  his  mid  thirties with a blue-black Yam-aka  perched atop his head, up  some  steps to a small landing that quickly  became  his ‘office’.

“So, Heidi”  he  started in, what’s probably going to happen is the judge will dismiss this but it will not  take effect for  90  days and in that 90 days you’ll be asked to go to a day of”Quality Of Life Training”  at a later date.

“You mean this case will be open for another three months  and I’ll have to go to Quality of  Life Training  on top  of that?” Oh no no no  was  running  fast through my head. You  are not ruining another three months of  my life  with more  of this stuff and I piped up.  “But I didn’t do  anything…” I said as visions of the orange pinnies and 5  gallon paint buckets  flashed  through my head.  And I pulled out my stack of papers I’d  brought with me ‘just in case’. “First of all, the  cop, Officer Chin said he only gave me a summons because he had to give one to someone  or  else he would  get in trouble from his  supervisor,  see, here’s the complaint  I filed with the city, it’s all there in detail” And I handed my papers to the skinny, pale  lawyer  with the Yamaka perched on his head. “Also, I’m a MUNY member and  here, here’s the  rules, the law on music in the subway, I’m allowed to sing, see? ” and I pointed to the rules outlined by the group City Lore that support our First  Amendment  right to  make music in the NYC Subways.

“But you see…” The ghost-white almost-a-man,  who I swore  was gonna disappear any minute into a pile of  white  gossamer dust in front of my eyes,  said, “You see, you were not given a summons for singing but for blocking the  flow of …”

“I know, I know what he wrote it for, but look at why he wrote it…”  and I pointed to the detailed  letter of  complaint  I ‘d sent the prior month to the police  department about the incident. “See, he said to me he had to give me a summons but I could keep on playing. That it  was just bullshit and he  only did it  to save his job” Then there was a silence during which all I saw was the top of that Yam-aka as  the ghostly-white lawyer leaned over and  perused my documents.

“Ok,  I’ll bring this up to he judge then”  he said. Ok, that’s not sounding very convincing Casper, I thought  to myself , but  decided to deal with part one later.

“Oh, and one more thing…” I piped up  quickly fearing he’d vanish and I’d not be abler to locate him again

“What’s that?” Casper the friendly lawyer asked

“Well, see I have  another summons, it’s for the same  thing,  well not exactly the same thing, well it’s the same thing just with a different  name on it” And I pulled out the most recent  summons given to me for “Disorderly Conduct”. “See, this one’s  for August and I’m on  tour in  August  and I can’t be here and  there at the  same time, so  do you think the judge  could hear this today as well?”

“No, Heidi, he can’t hear it today because it’s not here yet.  The ticket, it’s not here –  it’s too early”

“But it might be written wrong and he can just  dismiss it.  The cop  said he might have written it  wrong, you know, to help me out ’cause he  didn’t want to write it. Can you at least  check for that and maybe the judge can throw it out today?”

“Sorry Heidi ,  see we need the back  part” and he pointed to the back, white portion of the ticket d’jour; “That’s the only way to tell if the ticket is written incorrectly and  without that we can’t tell a thing  so  you’ll have to ask the guard s on your way out and see if they can give you a postponment form and you can mail that in and see if they’ll postpone it for you”

“Ok” I agreed  reluctantly as the ethereal man ushered me  out of his ‘stair-office’ and  back to my seat on the school-days-wooden benches.

Somehow I didn’t feel safer in his hands at all. It was tough to see a spine through that opalescence of a man. I mulled over asking for another lawyer,  someone who  seemed less wishy – washy  but decided against it as I knew nothing of the  ramifications of that request.  All I knew is that I’d most likely, as it was with the last time in court, have to take  things into my own hands and be my own best  defense. I can do this, I told myself. sure, I can  do this. Just  then  my ‘friend’ the judge decided  to  take a recess.  Crap! I thought as the whole room of us sighed in unison at the thought of  being on those  benches any longer than necessary.

Ok – so the  judge was  off  having coffee so most of us did what we were prohibited from doing  when he was in the room,  drink from  water bottles, text and chat quietly amongst ourselves.  The man next to me, thin & slumped ove in his part of the wooden bench started chatting; “You know it makes no sense, I just asked a person to  swipe their metro card for me an’ here I am in court for panhandlin’ -makes no  sense, no sense at all…” then he paused; “What you in for?”

“Singing”  Again,  I thought the t-shirt idea would be a might handy thing right about now.

“Singin’? a mini shout came out of the mans little  frame, “Singin?  What they get you for  singin’ for?”

“I was  singing in the subways and they ticketed me for that.”

“See, see, that’s just reeee-diculous” the little elf of a man muttered. “You’d think they got  better things to do than to mess with a musician don’t ya?” At which point his cell phone rang and he transferred his attention elsewhere.

After almost 45 minutes of hearing about biking tickets, tickets for asking someone to swipe their metro card for them, tickets for urinating  in the streets,  tickets  for  walking  between train  cars,  sitting in  a park, tickets  for just  about everything you can imagine,  our freindly neighborhood judge returned.  At the  same  time,  from the opposite door  to the judge, in shuffled a smallish  black  man wearing pants and a top in bright primary colours sporting  hand and ankle cuffs  as accessories and surrounded by four  cops.  As the judge  slung his black robe back on in his usual ‘whatever’  way, the brightly clothed,  hand-cuffed  defendant was seated on the front row of the  benches  flanked on either side by a cop.

Man, I wonder what he did, I and probably everyone else  in the room  wondered.  Then some mumbo-jumbo was shared up there by the judge and  the cuffed  man  was brought up to  stand in front of the judge.

“Hey how  come he gits to  go up first?” my ‘bench-neighbor’ leaned over and asked me.

“I don’t know”

“Man, this is gonna take forever  if they keep doin’ this  shit” the metro  card  guy mumbled. “And I’m  thirsty, it don’t make no sense  at all after all that  time outside in that heat that we have to  sit here and  we  can’t even  drink our  water”

That part I agreed  with. None of us were allowed to drink water while in the courtroom,  even the woman with her young child was reprimanded for giving her little  girl something to drink.  That made no sense  at all.  I had to agree  with the accused ‘panhandler’  to my right.

Just  then the cuffed guy was  given his  private words  from the judge and was escorted out.

“Now were back in business”  the skinny metro card dude said under his  breath. “Let’s  get this show on the road” he followed as he nodded to a short Hispanic guy who had just come  from the lawyers  ‘office’ holding not one but  five summons in his hands.  “Woah,  dude you got a pile there,  don’t ya'”  as he grinned to his new buddy who remained  silent,  speaking only through his eyes.  Just then “Heidi, Heidi Kole”  Yay it’s my turn I thought. “Wish me  luck” I said as I turned to my temporary bench-neighbor’ “Good Luck” he  said softly as I  walked up  to the judge.

“Heidi Kole, docket number  one hundred and thirty seven, charged  with “Obstructing the Flow  of Pedestrian Traffic” – I almost gagged as a laugh suddenly surfaced from my stomach at  hearing out loud why I was there. I swallowed the erupting laugh not  desiring to crush my chances before  we  even got  started.

I approached the bench and layed my bright turquoise  blue  bag  down on the floor, hiding it  from view, not wanting to  appear too ‘loud’ in front of the  judge. As I looked up I caught the judges eyes for the first  time and saw he was grinning. He  remembered me! He  remembered me from last year and “Unreasonable Noise” . God, I hope it’s in a good way, please God, make it in a good way I chattered in my head. The  judge continued with his knowing grin,  the kind of grin you’d expect to see if  your best friend were sitting behind the bench and you were both going out for  drinks later on that night. The judge leaned over to his clerk and without even giving our gossamer lawyer a chance to  speak he  said; “Do you mind if I just  dismiss this?” I  guess the answer was yes  because he popped his head  back up, pushed his glasses back into their rightful place on his  nose and said; “Dismissed” Wow – super, I thought, dismissed!  I’m  sure my floaty friend of a lawyer  felt the  same way.  All was about to be a wrap  when I remembered, my other ticket.

“Excuse me” I spoke up and the judge  looked at me “Excuse me, may I ask a question?”

“You  want to ask a question?” the judge asked  surprised. I believe the subtext there would be something to the effect of; “You’re  serious, you want to  ask a question after I just gave you a huge break?”

“Yes, if I might, I’d like to ask a question”

“All right.  What’s  your question”

“Well, you see, I have this other ticket. It’s the for the  same  thing but it’s all the way in August and I am  supposed to be  touring on the day of the hearing, you know, above ground, not in the subways, and I wondered….” and here I  paused to gauge the judge’s  face, all was clear, he seemed  curious; “Well, I wondered if there is any way you could take care of this one today as well ’cause I  really don’t want to miss  my performance.” Then there  was a pause, of surprise I  think and the judge  once again leaned over to his  clerk…

“Is there anything I can do for her?”

Man, this is one rockin’ judge!

There was some more mumble,  whipser,  mumble and apparantly  this time  ‘Casper’ had been right; “If you  write  to me, or the clerk, get a form outside then I’ll postpone your date ’till a later time, all right?”

“So, I will come  back  right?” I said  wanting to make sure another visit was what he was talking about. Because if there was any way to  avoid another day here I surely wanted to  know.

“Yes” he  said, followed by “That’s all right,  right?”  Ok, I’d  reached the end of happy time  in court I  could tell.

“Oh, yes, yes,  that’s  fine, thank you” and I smiled as I grabbed my bright blue bag from it’s temporary hiding place.

“Oh, and Heidi…” I heard the judge say my name one more time…crap, is he gonna reprimand me for  something…I turned around; “Don’t miss your tour.” And he gave me once last friendly smile. I nodded an “Ok” , smiled  back and whisked  through the courtroom doors to freedom!

Even though it looks like I’ll have to go back for summons number  three I felt just  fine. I finally had someone on my side and  who better than the judge hearing my case!

As I walked up  Broadway to get some food as I was  starving, I noticed a smallish black man in oddly familiar  brightly coloured clothing walking here and there,  wandering in and out of  random store fronts along the street. Oh my God , it was ‘cuff  guy’ – the guy who h d been, not  ten minutes  earlier in the same court room as I, in hand and ankle cuffs. Wow, that judge is in some happy mood  today, I thought to myself  as I  watched the  newly freed man explore  Broadway in the  sunlight. Either that or the NYC cops are beyond bored and are picking up anyone and everyone they can just to  say they’re doing  something.

Most likely, it’s the latter  that’s the truth of the  matter.  Well, at least I know my friendly judge will  continue to have a job for a long while now & you know who I want sitting when I go in next month for “Disorderly Conduct”

Pray guys, ok?