THE VALLEY DISPATCH, The crowd of people waiting to get into the Lowell District Court on Monday morning resembles a line you’d see at an athletic event or a rock concert.
For some, it’s a reunion of sorts. They exchange pleasantries and cigarettes and seem to know mostly everyone that is standing in line with them. Others stare down at the pavement as the line inches toward the door and the chrome metal detector. They are visibly uncomfortable and probably a bit nervous.
State and local police, lawyers, court officers and yes, even newspaper reporters with the proper credentials, are all allowed to bypass the metal detector and head to their respective destinations inside the building.
Court is a dismal place to be if you find yourself on the wrong side of the law, but it does make for some interesting character studies and a certain low-level drama, from the judge with the handlebar mustache and the oversized gavel to the defendant sitting in the back row, sound asleep, head tossed back and mouth wide open.
The court officers, stoic and authoritative, make sure the aisles remain clear, the hubbub is kept to a minimum and those downstairs in the lockup are called upstairs at their appointed time. A huge leather-upholstered door opens and the judge walks in.
If I was going before a judge, I think I’d at least show up wearing a necktie. One guy, who has obviously been here before, wears a leather motorcycle jacket. His sweatpants are tucked inside his unlaced construction boots and he’s chewing gum. The judge harshly admonishes him to loose the gum and stand up straight. The defendant rolls his eyes to the heavens. Not a good move.
Others just stare with a wide-eyed, deer-in-the-headlights look. The dad is there with his young son who has been charged with speeding and leaving the scene of an accident. Father and son are nattily dressed — jackets and ties — and the dad is rubbing the back of the kid’s neck like a coach would with his star quarterback.
Dad is prohibited from walking up the long aisle to the front of the bench. The kid is on his own. He lawyer explains that the boy is a college freshman and has no record. His case is continued.
A well-dressed woman, with a small child in tow, stands before the judge explaining why she failed to show up for jury duty. The kindly judge listens to the woman, shares some pleasantries with the 4-year-old and assures the woman that the problem can be resolved.
After what seems like a short eternity, the man I’m here to see is brought upstairs from lockup. He has spent the weekend in jail after having been arrested for a string of armed robberies. His weapon of choice was a syringe. His court-appointed lawyer explains that he has a severe addiction and should be sent to a treatment facility. The judge — the same judge who just minutes before had treated the lady and her daughter so nicely — chooses not to exercise that option and orders the defendant held without bail pending a trial before the second-session court.
You get the feeling that the first-session courtroom is the first stop in a long trail of stops for many of these folks. You get the feeling that you’re watching justice being dispensed with the speed of a drive-through restaurant. There is no distinction between rich and poor, male or female. The shabbily-dressed man gets the same treatment as the guy with the jacket and a tie.
What to comment on this column? E-mail Dennis Shaughnessey at firstname.lastname@example.org.