For a guy who used to party as heartily as I did, I’ve spent a surprisingly small amount of time in a courtroom. This is a good thing. Judges are notoriously intolerant of the type of things that I used to engage in as a matter of policy. I’m willing to place bets that you’ll never find the phrase, “The court will let the defendant finish his whippet before testifying” in the court record of any case, ever. So I do my best to stay out of trouble, and have been very successful in this regard with the exception of a license plate violation and the time I got evicted from the Mother of all Party Houses when I was in college.
Long time readers will be familiar with the backdrop to this story, but if you’re new here you may want to check it out for yourself. In short, I lived in a crazy house full of people who did assloads of drugs, drank oceans of beer, and whose hijinks were only barely tolerated by the landlord until we missed a full rent payment due to one of our roommates moving out on us with no notice. This started the Wheels of Justice in motion, although we did our best to forestall that:
Me: Come on, we’re just short $165! A roommate bailed on us, and we’re having a hard time scrounging his share of the rent together. Can’t you just divide what we owe you and spread it across the remainder of the lease?
Me: Why not?
Landlord: Because you guys are running that house like you’re auditioning for the sequel to Animal House.
Me: C’mon, we’re not that bad.
Landlord: No? I’ve had to ask you numerous times to remove the liquor signs from the outside of the house, the basement is knee deep in red plastic cups, and to judge by the electric bill, I’d say you have more than one set of grow lights going in there somewhere.
Me: Uhhh… No comment.
Landlord: I was having dinner with my family a couple nights ago and I mentioned that it looked like I would have to do something about the guys in the house at 5th & Springfield, and my daughter said, “Oh, those guys are crazy!”
Me: Oh boy.
Landlord: If I were you, I’d pack your bags.
So we began going through the process of getting evicted, which pretty much involved business as usual for about a month as the process involved court filings, getting served, and a date in court. Getting served was memorable: We were high out of our minds on hash when a process server found us giggling on the porch. After laughing our asses off for fifteen minutes, my roommate Carl piped up, “Who was that?”
“Fuck if I know,” came the quick reply, setting off another wave of laughter. Too stoned to make sense of the summons, we only found out about our court date the next day. This prompted us to seek the legal expertise of the University’s Student Legal Services, which consisted of people just like us who had managed to a) go to class; b) that’s pretty much it. This wasn’t exactly OJ’s Dream Team we were dealing with.
In our only pre-court meeting, our legal advice specialist Chad told us, “We’re going to file a writ of What the Fuck?”
“That’s what we call it when someone is being nitpicky over the letter of the law. I mean, he’s booting you out over $165 when you’ve offered to make payments? That’s bullshit. We’ll appeal to the judge’s common sense and decency.”
“Will that work?”
Our brilliant legal strategy thus firmly established, we went home and awaited our day in court. I awoke that day with my roommate pounding on the door. “Wake up, we’ve got to get ready for court!” he shouted. I rolled out of bed, slapped on a comically unfashionable jacket and tie, and stepped out into the hall. In the room across the hall sat Carl with a tray of pot and large bong. “C’mon, c’mon, we’ve only got forty-five minutes to prepare our legal defense,” he laughed.
We spent the next few minutes debating the wisdom of this preparation. My point was that it seemed foolish to walk into court so obviously in flagrant violation of the law. Carl’s point was, “Oh, c’mon. It’ll be hilarious.” Carl’s impeccable logic won the day.
I started getting really paranoid as we stood in front of the courtroom waiting for Chad. It was as if every cop, of whom there were many, was staring straight at me. This, now that I think about it, was probably not a figment of my imagination. Together, Carl and I looked like Cheech and Chong had bought dinner jackets from Good Will and moseyed on down to court to defend themselves against some heinous drug-related charge like doing gravity-bongs in a maternity ward.
Finally, Chad showed up and we went over our defense.
Me: Chad, I’m really high. Do I have to talk to the judge?
Chad: No. Wait, you’re high? You got high before court?
Chad: Why would you do that?
Chad: Good God, ok let’s just go in there and sit down. Don’t say anything.
Me: We’ve got, like, client-lawyer confidentiality, right? You’re not going to say anything about us being high, are you?
Chad: I’m not a lawyer.
And with that we took a seat in the gallery. Carl found the whole experience wildly hilarious, while I sat there scared shitless that I would have to participate in some arcane legal procedure and blow my cover. I kept leaning over to Chad, asking him if I would have to testify. “Testify to what?” he hissed. “You owe back rent. This isn’t a god damn murder investigation. Just sit there and shut up.”
The case before ours almost proved to be my undoing. From what I gathered, it was a simple dispute over money owed to a neighbor. It wouldn’t have held my attention except one of the parties seemed intent on invoking his right to cross-examine a witness, namely the other guy. He spent several minutes arguing with the judge over this, with the judge conveying his displeasure mainly by rolling his eyes. At last he agreed to let the guy have his chance, and swear to God, this is how it went.
Plaintiff: (begins pacing before the defendant with his hands clasped behind his back) Sir, for the record, can you state your name and address please?
Defendant: John Doe 555 W. Michigan Street, Urbana IL
Plaintiff: Thank you. Can you please tell me your relationship with the plaintiff?
Defendant: You? Yeah, you’re my neighbor.
Plaintiff: Thank you. (begins speaking loudly and quickly) Now, is it not true that at no time, did you not disagree to not return my lawnmower or otherwise not agree to never not reimburse me for said equipment?
Judge: That is it! You! Sit down. Judgement for the defendant.
Carl found this to be the funniest thing he’d ever seen (and looking back at it, I don’t blame him), but it scared the ever loving shit out of me. “Holy shit! I can’t get up there and do that! I’ve got to get out of here!” I was panicking, and Chad was getting pissed.
“Just sit down and shut up!” he said as he pulled me back into my seat. “You’re freaking out!”
I sat back down, utterly freaked out. So much so, in fact, that I missed our case. Before I knew it Chad stood up and said, “No, your honor” and with that we were on our way out of court.
“Wait, what just happened?” I asked.
“You’ve got thirty days to pay all back rent, and if you don’t, you’re out on the thirty-first day.”
“Great job, Perry Mason,” said Carl, busting out into laughter.
Wanting to get far, far away from the legal system, I nonchalantly sauntered out of the courthouse, although I’m not too sure you can call it sauntering once you hit 20 mph. Thirty-one days later I moved into a new rental house, this one owned by a cop, thus keeping my incredible streak of foolishness alive.
As I mentioned, the only other time I wound up in court was over expired tags on my license plate. I was older and wiser, and at no time did I ever not admit to not having a lack of tags on my license plate. I won that case.