The Little Things Really Do Matter

I was standing on line in a courthouse the other day, waiting for my turn through the metal detector. These waits never really bother me. Courthouses can be violent places. I appreciate the job done by judicial marshals to protect my back.

But then someone waltzed by. The marshals said hello. The metal detecter bleeped and belched. But no one stopped the walker. It turns out that he worked at the courthouse, in the Public Defender's office.

I understand why the Public Defender was not required to stop, empty his pockets, put his belongings through the metal detector, and then, almost inevitably, have a portable metal detector passed over his body. The marshals knew him.

What I didn't understand is why I was treated differently. The marshals know me, too. I go to that courthouse often enough to be on a first name basis with several of the men and women providing security. Why, I wonder, is a visiting lawyer treated differently from one who works in the building?

But I let it pass. I was running late for court.

I was running late because I could not find parking in the courthouse lot. I had arrived a little late that day, having been stuck in traffic. All the spots were filled, except for a few in the area designated for courthouse employees. Even the spots for jurors all seemed to be filled.

I wondered, as I looked at those empty spots next to the building, why lawyers in trial in a courthouse aren't extended parking privileges. After all, I was busy at work in the building, picking a jury in a capital case. Those are pretty high stakes, even if the state was not electing to try to kill my client. What would be the harm of permitting lawyers in trial in a courthouse to park with those employed in the courthouse?

Because I could not find parking in the lot, I searched the streets near the courthouse, finally settling on a spot a block of so away.

I could use the exercise. Walking is good for the soul. But I grumbled some as I had both a heavy briefcase and a load of clothing for my client to carry. The clothing consisted of a hanger with a couple pair of fresh-pressed pants draped in a dry-clear's plastic, and a box of starched shirts. My client, you see, is incarcerated. The care and cleaning of pants, shirts, ties and jackets is part of my job.

I stumbled up to the courthouse with my load and gave the clean clothing to the marshal at the metal detector. The items passed through machine without a bleep. Graciously, the marshal took the clothing into the lockup to present to my client.

I did not think anything of this. Several weeks before, I had dropped off a larger bundle of clothing for my client. The marshal's took it, gave my client a choice about what to wear, and kept the balance in the bowels of the court. At the end of each week, I was given dirty laundry by the marhsals to take with me.

"Norm," a marshal said later that day, blushing, "the boss tells me we don't have the room to store your client's clothing anymore." What changed?", I asked. "I dropped off less today than I left a few weeks ago."

"I know," was the response. "I am just following orders."

At day's end, I went to retrieve the extra clothing. To my surprise, I found it left in a public area, almost casually tossed on a table as though it were garbage.

So much for civility in the courts. It occurred to me all at once that the chief marshal was most likely offended that an incarcerated man would have dry-cleaned clothes delivered to a courthouse. There was no problem storing the clothing two weeks earlier, when I delivered them. A petty soul struts that courthouse.

So I continue on in a lengthy trial and marvel at double standards. Some lawyers working at the building walk in unmolested. They park near the building. And it suddenly becomes onerous to store dry-cleaned clothes. Sure, these are all petty indignities. But they add up and make me wonder why the courthouses are permitted to operate so blatantly under double standards.

Reprinted courtesy of The Connecticut Law Tribune.


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