I became a lawyer because of an experience I had as a teenager in traffic court, seeing how the truth could prevail in the adversarial system, despite a deck stacked against you. Today, I sat as a pro tem judge in traffic court, returning the cycle back to where it all started.
Traffic citations are criminal charges, so I was handling criminal matters; the first party to each case was “The People,” which made me a little bit nervous. The bailiff announced my name with the prefix “The Honorable” and everyone was calling me “Your Honor” and really meaning it, but as soon as I got going, I set the ceremonial stuff out of my mind and the whole process then felt quite natural. By the time I’d gotten through the non-appearance bail forfeitures and people-not-ready-to-proceed dismissals, I’d lost all the butterflies in my stomach and was ready to take testimony and hear cases for real. Sorting through the evidence was not hard, and the sentencing – the part I was worried about – actually became quite easy once I figured out how the fine system worked and how it was represented on the court’s paperwork. The clerk was also a big help to me after the parties had all been excused, and I can feel confident that the whole thing went well.
My calendar was mostly speeding tickets on the freeway. My sense of the ethics governing my conduct as a judge tell me that this is not an appropriate forum to go in to much more detail about my rulings or my reasoning for them. Suffice to say that driving back to the office, I thought about the rulings I’d made, and I came to the conclusion that I’d sentenced the guilty defendants not only correctly but also justly, and dismissed the cases that deserved to be dismissed. That made me feel good about what I was doing, and I found the overall experience quite enjoyable. I’m looking forward to my next assignment, which looks like small claims.