Friday, April 6, 2007

"Disorder in the Court"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

I have been admitted to many bars in my life (and I've been thrown out of a few, too), but because I didn't go to law school, I never took the bar exam to be a lawyer. That's why I have to plead nolo contendere (a legal term meaning "your fly is open") to being mistaken for an attorney when I accompanied my wife to traffic court recently.

Let the record show that my wife, Sue, also known as the defendant, Susan P. Zezima, represented by Jerry Zezima, Esquire, which is better than being known as Jerry Zezima, Newsweek, received a criminal summons to appear in Lake Grove Village Court on the charge of having an uninspected vehicle sticker on her car.

In this landmark case, People of the State of New York v. Susan P. Zezima, Case No. 06120082, the summons read: "Accusatory instruments filed with this court charge you with the charge(s) shown above. Therefore, you are ordered to appear in person before this Court for arraignment. Failure to appear on the arraignment date shown will result in a warrant for your arrest."

"I'm not a criminal!" the defendant screamed into the phone when she called the court after receiving the summons in the mail. That, of course, would be for the justice system to decide. And the evidence seemed overwhelming: The defendant had been given a ticket for failing to have her car inspected. Her defense: She did, indeed, have it inspected, albeit two days after getting the ticket, but had failed to notify the court of said inspection. Now she was a wanted woman.

It was up to me, in my first case, to clear her good name. This naturally made the defendant nervous because I'm lucky I'm not in jail myself.

Off the record, I showed up merely to offer moral support to my wife. In a calculated effort to sway the judge, I was nattily attired because Sue's original attorney, Natalie Attired, couldn't make it. I wore a crisp blue shirt along with a jacket and tie. I also wore pants because, to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, I don't own a pair of court briefs.

When Sue arrived at the courthouse, accompanied by yours truly, she had to register with a woman who was taking attendance. "Are you her lawyer?" the woman asked me. Before I could answer, Sue said, "He's my husband." The woman didn't see Sue's name on the docket, so she sent us to the court clerk's office. The clerk found Sue's name and said her case would be heard. Then he asked me, "Are you her lawyer?" Before Sue could answer, I said, "I'm her husband."

We sat among the 40 or so other alleged scofflaws who were waiting to have their cases heard. One of them, a man named Jeff, said to me, "Are you her lawyer?" Sue and I, in unison, identified me as her husband.

The district attorney and the assistant district attorney, both of whom were beautiful young women, just like on "Law & Order," asked, "Are you her lawyer?" I was going to say yes but figured I'd be charged with perjury or lying to a grand jury or some other offense and, as a result, be disbarred. So I said, "I'm the defendant's husband."

Everyone at the courthouse thought I was an attorney. I don't know who should have been more insulted, me or the legal profession.

"All rise!" the court clerk announced as the judge, the Honorable Scott D. Middleton, Village Justice, entered the courtroom. Sue looked scared, so I tried to put her at ease with the best legal advice I could think of: "Plead insanity."

In the disposition of the cases before him, Judge Middleton showed a good disposition. He was fair and, as his title implied, honorable. He did, however, go by the letter of the law, so when he fined Jeff $100 for a parking violation, I became concerned for my client.

When Sue's name was called, she rose and approached the bench. I rose, too. "Are you her lawyer?" Judge Middleton asked.

I replied, "I'm Exhibit Z, Your Honor."

"He's my husband," Sue explained.

The assistant DA motioned to me to sit down.

In a moment, it was all over. The judge dismissed Sue's case, meaning she didn't have to pay a fine and her record was clean. Justice was served.

If I do say so myself, Perry Mason couldn't have done better.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima