Thursday, January 28, 2010

This Is Old City Hall, Day 7

As part of Osgoode's Intensive Program in Criminal Law, I'm spending my final term of law school at Old City Hall. Go to the first day.

There was one matter to be dealt with in Courtroom 126 this morning [Wednesday, January 27th]. It went exactly thus:
Crown: "In light of the fact that there is no reasonable prospect of conviction, the Crown requests that the charges be withdrawn."

His Honour: "Any comments, Counsel?"

Defence: "No comments, Your Honour."

His Honour: [Rolls up an information and raps it on the bench in lieu of a gavel.] "The matter is withdrawn. [To the clerk:] Is that it?"

Madam Clerk: "That's it, Your Honour."

His Honour: "Let's go home."

We didn't go home, of course. Instead His Honour recommended I attend another courtroom to "watch justice [or a facsimile thereof] being done". In the other courtroom, a woman was being charged with Impaired. Her counsel was presenting a Charter s. 9 argument in which I, in my boundless wisdom and experience, saw no merit at all.

The accused was slight, with black hair streaked with blonde. She had orange skin that camouflaged her age; she could have been 38 or 48. (I recognize that it's unfair but I can't help but suspect she would have been wearing Lululemon if she were anywhere but before a judge.) She was pulled over after running two red lights. The arresting officer observed that her speech was slurred and she had wine on her lips. The lone observer in the body of the court (besides me) was a man in his late fifties or early sixties. Can you feel the urge to give in to stereotype and judge prematurely?

After counsel had made his submissions, the Crown shambled to the podium. When he started talking, one got the impression that he was shambling then too. He referred to cases but didn't have any materials prepared. Court was adjourned early so that the Crown could get it together. At this point it was 11:00 a.m. so I went in search of His Honour again.

H.H. was on hold with Via Preference for the duration of the morning recess. I thought that was amusing. One doesn't think of judges being subjected to the inconveniences suffered by lesser mortals.

Many other matters were dealt with, none of them of much gravity, though there was one exchange in plea court that I thought stupid enough to record:
His Honour [to the accused, upon sentencing him to a term of probation]: "Anything you'd like to say to the court?"

The accused: "I would request [a less onerous term of probation] because I'm looking for a second job."

His Honour: "No."

The accused: "Okay."

His Honour: "Why did you drink when you were released nine days earlier with a condition [to abstain from the purchase/possession/consumption of alcohol]?"

The accused: "It was a friend's birthday."

His Honour: [Repeats his question, less temperately.]

The accused: "I was forced to drink, against my will."

At this point my notes read: UH-OH, which turned out to be a good prediction.

Finally, there was a matter I will call The Rooming House Incident. A resident of such a facility was charged with uttering threats. According to the police report, he banged on the walls and told one of his fellow residents that he was going to "fuck him up". Complainant and accused were known to each other and had had prior confrontations that had resulted in charges being laid. At court, the accused acknowledged having uttered the threat and was prepared to accept the consequences. He was a small man in his forties. He came to Canada from India in 1985; as a result of the charges against him, he was facing a deportation order. Defence counsel said the accused had some "suspected cognitive impairment" due to long-term alcohol abuse (over more than twenty years).

I found the facts unremarkable until I turned around and saw the complainant, who attended the sentencing. He was wearing a black T-shirt with skeletons, skulls and dollar signs on it. He was, with no exaggeration, at least twice the size and mass of the accused. The little old man pleading guilty before the court could not have "fuck[ed] him up" with four arms, three baseball bats and a gun.

Two additional facts were entered, stupendous enough to warrant bullets of their own:
  1. the argument that prompted the uttering of threats was over the whereabouts of the TV remote; and
  2. the accused was the one who called the police, in order to enlist their aid in getting back said remote.
His Honour must have come to the same conclusion that I did, because he prefaced his judgment with a speech about his obligations in equity as well as in law before entering a discharge that rendered void the pending deportation order.

Observations
  • Neck tattoos today: none, but there was a defence lawyer who resembled Noah Wyle if Noah Wyle got lost in Appalachia for three weeks. But unruly facial hair does not a lawyer unmake, and he was a great enunciator, a trait His Honour values highly.
  • Also, one of the clerks had a Padawan rattail [at right].
  • The heating system in Old City Hall possibly dates from 1889 when the building was founded. One wonders if there's a boiler room in the basement full of logs from old growth forests that no longer exist. The hot water radiators sound like biplanes facing off in WWI: they rattle up and up and up until there's a sound like an explosion.
  • At one point during counsel's submissions, the head Crown swept into the courtroom and just stood in the middle of it until counsel faltered and stopped talking. Then she boomed, "Thank you, Counsel" and had all her matters traversed to another court. She was a lesson in command of a room -- she sounded like a judge herself. She'll probably be one in due course.
  • His Honour has the Ontario Reports, 1969-1973, in bound volumes in his office. Why this period only? Maybe when he practised criminal defence he had a lot of cases reported in that time. Maybe he just thinks it was the Golden Age of criminal jurisprudence.

2 comments:

Ken said...

shit, I am a terrible enunciator. this bodes poorly.

yesterday I met with a professor and he thought I was trying to request permission to use one essay for two separate classes. I was not, but due to my mouth diarrhea, I understand why he thought so.

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