Tuesday, January 26, 2010

This Is Old City Hall, Day 5

Justice K----- is my principal for the week. Before sending me out into the courthouse, His Honour issues the following directive: "Forget the law. Focus on the people." He assumes I knew the law in the first place.

My assignment for the week: hit as many courts as possible and observe, per K----- J.'s instructions, "how slowly the system works". The first stop in my tour is in Federal sentencing court, where drug matters are resolved. A couple sentences are handed out, but mostly matters are put over, one after the other, until another day. So far His Honour's cynicism is not misplaced. I abandon this court in short order. In another courtroom a motion is being argued for exclusion of evidence under s. 24(2) of the Charter. I get there just in time for an early morning recess, so I move on for the second time. Next door is Domestic court.

Domestic court is a funny bit of Newspeak: it rolls off the tongue better than Domestic Violence court, but it's sure not as descriptive.

My conception of domestic violence is probably coloured by Law & Order. I enter the court expecting to find a swarthy drunk on the stand and a mousy, downcast woman in the front row. Yes, there is a man on the stand, and yes, he could be described as swarthy -- but the woman in the front row is the opposite of mousy or downcast. Her eyes, her posture and the set of her jaw suggest she is carved out of rock. The man's testimony indicates that she is a crack cocaine user and a prostitute. Even so, it takes me twenty minutes before I realize that he is the complainant and she the accused.

The complainant evidently had an arrangement with this woman whereby she shared his home in exchange for payment -- like Pretty Woman but without any attractive people and with more crack cocaine. At some point the money stopped flowing. Words were exchanged. A glass was hurled at the complainant. The basement tenant was alerted. (He testifies next.) Police were summoned.

The complainant wouldn't qualify his relationship with the accused as a sexual one. Defence counsel inquires whether he has ever heard of Bill Clinton. This is what passes for humour around here. The Crown inquires as to the relevance of this comment. It's not really an objection worth making, but I empathize with her: it would be hard to be a young female Crown in a courtroom full of dirty old men telling sub-Jay Leno-calibre jokes.

I don't come back after the noon recess. The wheels of justice are turning well enough here, but maybe in another courtroom they're going in the right direction.

  • Defence counsel in the domestic matter was ancient: 75 if he was a day. Why is this man still practising? Lawyers joke about dropping in the saddle, but is this racket really that bad?
  • Many defence lawyers, especially senior ones, have ponytails. Why on earth? Maybe it's a reaction to the prevailing Crown style of shaved heads. Maybe where the shaved head is the ageing Crown's meagre token of individualism, the ponytail denotes the Toronto defence bar's hippie communal pretensions. There' s a joke to be made here about time stopping in the courts -- but I don't know that there was ever an era when this was an acceptable aesthetic choice for a legal practitioner.
  • Neck tattoos today: 2.
  • Hypothetically: You're arrested for shoplifting at a grocery store. You explain to the court that you are a recovering heroin and cocaine addict, clean for nine years; however, you continue to use marijuana, and this increases your appetite, potentially leading to shoplifting. Is this an aggravating or a mitigating factor?


Ryan Marr said...

In another courtroom there is a maritime case. Just as I walk in the defendant (who is being charged with mutiny) is asked to take the stand and recount his version of events. "Oh, the year was 1778, HOW I WISH I WAS IN SHERBROOKE NOW! A letter of marque came from the king, to the scummiest vessel I'd ever seen, God damn them all! I was told we'd cruise the seas for American gold we'd fire no guns-shed no tears now I'm a broken man on a Halifax pier the last of Barrett's Privateers."

Will said...

yarr, call me back, ishmael

Ryan Marr said...

"Arr, that's Handsome Pete, he dances for nickels. Pete, ye got some customers."

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