There was a time in my younger life that for whatever unknown reason to me that I had the unfortunate experiences of many times meeting many traffic officers who were somehow motivated to write me citations for mainly petty, disputable moving and/or parking violations. Just paying the fines without contesting the citation could have been cost ineffective for my then economic condition.

However, seeing that I had available time, I chose to go to traffic court and present my case in response to the alleged violation(s). At least, I figured, I had a chance of success because in my mind the perception of the violation that preceded the citation was open to interpretation.

It’s not that I was flagrantly in violation of traffic regulations, but rather a matter of opinion did I come to a “complete stop” at the stop sign; or, was I not completely in the correct lane when I was turning. We can all appreciate driving experiences like that.

judge 2Anyway, the first time I had the experience of actually going to a traffic court, age 22, I was dealing with having been issued EIGHT traffic citations from one traffic stop. Yep, I was stopped and issued EIGHT separate ‘violation’ citations.

Quickly, I’ll explain. The place was Chicago; I was a union high-rise concrete framing carpenter working on building Chicago south side housing projects. The night before all these citations I just bought my first pick-up truck and was driving it to the job site.

Once at work, I was asked, (because I now had a truck), to drive to another close by job site and pick up some construction materials.  That’s when all the fun began.

In Chicago, they had strict traffic regulations that are different for both car and ‘truck’ vehicles. Being that this was my first day in ever owning a truck and driving a truck in the Chicago area; the newness of it all overshadowed my limited knowledge of what I was driving and where I was driving.

The citation summary was a follows: (1) Misplaced bill of sale, hence no state issued tags, (2) No flares on board (as required by traffic statute), (3) No printed owner name or other ID on the truck side panel, (4) Driving a truck on a boulevard (forbidden unless making an immediate delivery or pick-up), (5) Driving a truck on a boulevard the wrong way, (6) Making an unauthorized U-turn on a boulevard (when just I realized I had turned onto a boulevard and was trying to get off that street), (7) No proof of ‘commercial’ insurance (the insurance card), he asked and I told him (duh) I was doing a ‘materials pick-up so I needed a commercial insurance ‘card’, and finally (8) Making an ‘illegal’ turn (because was not completely in the turning lane by less than 2 feet)…

I mean like, come on… I just bought the truck the night before and for the moment did not realize where I was driving and that I was now driving a truck to work didn’t quite sink in yet…

So, feeling sort of righteous about the whole episode, and not wanting to pay the collectively huge fines for all these citations, I decided to go to court and at least try to reduce the potential financial damage.

Finally, my day in court…

The courtroom was standing room only and when my name was called, I approached the bench…

I was asked how do I plead”…

I simply said “…no contest”, but continued my statement by ask to state my side of the experience as it was entirely explainable and I had all the necessary paperwork with me to verify my position.

The court clerk also asked if the policeman was present and was instructed that he was just down the hall…

Following the instructions of the judge, I took my place in the witness box.

Then, I was asked to raise my right hand and swore an oath to tell the truth”; remember, most of the time I do not ‘think’ about the image my birth hand projects, when I held it fully extended into the air, in this courtroom, … right along side the judge who was maybe 8 feet away to my immediate right.

The judge, by a few mili-seconds, was not exactly the first person to notice my hand as I was being sworn in… It was the people in the court room… a few people started to laugh and the laugh interrupted my being sworn in.

The court clerk started over swearing me in again and this time the judge noticed my hand facing him, palm side towards me… away from his view.

The judge stopped the process right then and tone changed and he addressed me about an ‘attitude’ problem I might be having with his court.

Seconds earlier, I had already just lowered my hand…

I responded with a simple yet unaware response of pardon me…?”

He tersely repeated his question and I then realized what had just happened… but, before I could respond, the judge fired at me, “Did I wish to be cited for CONTEMPT as well…?”

I paused in responding, if only to gather my thoughts since I was there because of those 8 citations and the courtroom appeared to be getting kind of warm place to be right now.

In looking (dismayed and hurt) at the judge, I said, “…excuse me…?”

…Now, this time he was a bit more terse than he was before and strongly repeated himself, ” “Did I want to be cited for CONTEMPT as well…” , as he went on to display his finger towards me and said “…this, (the ‘finger’, his shaking finger that he was directing right towards me), could put me in a cell to think for a day or two…”

Then, after a few second pause to let his words settle into the courtroom, I said “excuse me” again with a sort of hurt look on my face… and then, raising my hand, slowly turned my hand around with my palm towards him as I said, “…..are you referring to my hand… sir…????”

He took a good look at my hand… and then just said damn…”, then he looked into the courtroom at the court clerk and said “case dismissed…”, without allowing me the opportunity to even make my case with all my paperwork.

In my unscathed retreat from the crowded courtroom, realizing what had just happened, I had to bite my cheek to keep from laughing as I passed out the door and right by the puzzled officer who ticketed me…

 *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Subsequently, I’ve learned from this interaction and with reserved respect, to have used this knowledge as a learning experience in that everything you might see may not be as you first perceive.

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