By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
I just got sprung.
Yeah, the prosecutor took me in the hall and asked what’s up. I told him it was B.S. He told me to take off.
The Buzzcocks’ “Something’s Gone Wrong Again” starts looping in my head. Some people in the courtroom nod out. I try to, but it’s freezing and the room is stark. Only our bailiff, a bright-faced, energetic young man in a green sheriff’s deputy uniform, seems to have dodged whatever pall is being cast here.
Someone starts snoring. It grows more intense the deeper into REM he gets. A chuckle rolls through the back benches like a wave. The bailiff shines his flashlight on the guy. No response. So he walks back among the riffraff to rap on the wooden bench where the man is sleeping.
“You can close your eyes,” the bailiff says politely when the man stirs, “but you have to keep it down.”
The judge returns. Cases that logged in way after me are now being heard in short order: drugs, stealing, stalking, parole violations, domestic violence ... I had my dog off her leash. For 5 feet! I start to wonder if my violation just doesn’t rate with the honorable Judge Swain, who was once a federal prosecutor specializing in white-collar crime and who made a name for herself prosecuting the largest bank-fraud case in FBI history. Across the room, the young guy who logged in right behind me looks my way pleadingly. I shrug. The judge leaves again. I realize the bailiff is my only hope, and walk up to the barrier that separates those handing out justice from those receiving it . or wanting to receive it. I tell the bailiff that I’m here for a leash-law citation and was one of the first people to sign in. He looks at me empathetically and checks the log-in book.
“Someone will be with you soon,” he says.
At last, a woman in a severe suit crosses from the inner sanctum to the miscreant section and starts calling out, “James Connelly? James Connelly?”
I hold up my hand. “Joe Donnelly?”
The prosecutor tells me to follow her into the hallway. She scans a file that seems way too thick.
“You had your dog off a leash?”
“What do you want to do?” she interrupts. “You can plead not guilty and schedule a hearing . ”
“How much is the fine?”
The judge comes back and starts plowing through more cases. I catch the bailiff’s eye and give him the what’s up? look. He nods. As soon as there’s a break in the action, he asks the judge if they’re going to process the tickets.
“We have some tickets to process?” the judge asks.
“Yes, two,” says the bailiff, looking at his log. The kid across the room and I exchange hopeful glances.
“James Connelly?” the judge calls out.
“I’m Joe Donnelly,” I say. “James is my middle name.”
“Come up here please.”
The judge rifles through piles of files. Then, the bailiff sets upon other stacks of files. Then, the prosecutor joins in.
“We can’t seem to find your case, Mr. Connelly,” the judge says.
“It’s Donnelly. Joe Donnelly,” I say. “I have the citation, your honor.” I pull a rumpled green ticket from my wallet and hand it to the bailiff, who brings it to the judge.
“You know, you shouldn’t have your dog offleash,” she says, not unkindly.
“Well, I wanted to talk to you about that,” I say.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got a good deal for you. In the service of justice, you’re free to go.”
I look over at the prosecutor, who seems to be still looking for my case file, then at the bailiff, and back at the judge. Only the kid from across the room is left in the benches. He nods in approval.
“Are you sure it’ll be okay? I don’t need a receipt or something?”
“We’ll take care of it,” she says.
Outside it’s raining and cold. I’m free again.
Epilogue: On January 10, a rare warm morning during an exceptionally cold Los Angeles winter, the Department of Animal Regulation cites Joe Donnelly at 10:10 a.m. for walking his dog, Willa, in Elysian Park, without a leash. He is ordered to appear at the Central Arraignments Court, an imposing gray slab of a building, located at 429 Bauchet St., at 8:30 a.m.
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