Monday, July 15, 2019

So you received a traffic ticket

We all know that sinking feeling when we see this in our rear view mirror:
Or we drive by this:
It means - the dreaded traffic ticket.

In California, at the bottom of the ticket [the formal name is “citation”] is a date, time, and courthouse address.  Under that is a statement that says something like “without admitting guilt, I promise to appear at the date/time/place indicated above.”  That's where you signed, promising to appear.

If you don't appear on or before that date, lots of bad things can result.

Okay - maybe not this bad
A warrant can be issued for your arrest, your driver's license can be suspended, and additional fines can be added.  Then the next time you're stopped for a traffic violation, Murphy's Law will dictate that you'll have your 85-year-old great-aunt Marge in the car with you.  You know the one.  She's the lady who everyone in your family calls “little miss busybody” because she's always gossiping about family matters.
Your Great-Aunt Marge
Not only will you be embarrassed to be pulled over by the police, you'll be hauled off to jail on the outstanding warrant along with the additional charge of driving on a suspended license, which is generally a misdemeanor.  None of this is fun, except to Marge who WAS THERE WHEN IT ALL HAPPENED.  Pretty soon your unfortunate predicament will be reported on the evening news and you'll need to change your name, have plastic surgery, and join the witness protection program.
Don't let that happen.  Write your court date in LARGE BLACK PERMANENT MARKER on your calendar, enter the date into your phone/computer/PDA/whatever you use.  Tape a note to the back side of your front door.

And, if you accidentally miss your appearance date, go to court immediately to take care of it.  You'll probably still be looking at an increased fine, but the license suspension and the warrant can be removed.  Sorry Aunt Marge!

Tell us in the comments about your Aunt Marge.

Next week, how to clear a “fix it” ticket.

Monday, July 8, 2019

You found the courtroom! Now what?

If your jury panel was called for trial selection, just wait outside the courtroom until the bailiff lets you in.
Once inside, you'll usually be seated in the audience, called the “gallery”, until your name is selected to be seated in the jury box.
Here's a jury box in Ohio
Here's a jury box in Nebraska
Here's a jury box in Kansas
Here's a jury box in Texas
Then the judge and attorneys will ask the jurors questions to determine which ones will be selected to decide the case.

If you're in court to attend a hearing on your own case, check the wall outside the courtroom door.  You should find a list of the cases on calendar for that day, sometimes on a cork board and other times in a glass display case.

This courthouse is in Arkansas
Here's one page from a recent calendar in downtown Los Angeles.
Find your case name/number.  Next to your case will be a calendar number.  See there on the left?  Remember that number.  That's how you check in.  At least, that's how you check in if you're in court in Southern California.  For attorneys, we write the calendar number and the party we represent on our business card, or two cards if the courtroom has a court reporter.

In many courtrooms, the bailiff will ask you to sit on a specific side of the courtroom based on whether you are plaintiff or defendant in the case.  Plaintiff's side is closest to the jury box.  Sometimes there's even a placard on counsel table.

This is the defense table
So if you're a plaintiff, you'll sit in the gallery on the side with the jury box.  If you're a defendant, you'll sit on the other side.  Since the whole point of “going to court” is because the parties have a dispute, this is one step the bailiffs take to keep the courtroom as orderly and non-confrontational as possible, at least until the hearing starts.

Before you go inside the courtroom, TURN OFF YOUR CELL PHONE.

Sometimes this is okay, other times not
If your phone makes noise while the judge is on the bench, most of the time the bailiff will send you out into the hallway.  Sometimes this means you miss your hearing.  Other times, the bailiff will confiscate your phone.  If you're lucky, you'll get it back when your hearing is finished, but I've been in some courtrooms where you don't get it back until 4:30 in the afternoon.  Ouch.

Fun cell phone anecdote #1:  Usually the bailiff will give a speech before the judge comes out, informing everyone of the consequences of their phone making noise.  Then the judge comes out and things proceed.  One morning about 30 minutes after the judge came out, a phone rang.

From the front of the courtroom.

The judge grinned
sheepishly, reached under his robe, retrieved his OWN PHONE, shut it off, and handed it to the bailiff.

Fun cell phone anecdote #2:  I was waiting for a small claims trial to finish.  The defendant didn't show up, so all the plaintiff had to do was prove his case and he would have judgment in his favor.  During plaintiff's presentation, his cell phone rang.  [This happened to me once, and I smacked my pocket to shut it off, then apologized profusely to the judge who still ordered the bailiff to take my phone until my hearing was finished.  Now I usually put my phone on vibrate AND airplane mode before I even enter the courthouse.]


Everyone else in the courtroom was stunned.  We sat there with our mouths hanging open, staring at this plaintiff, or at the judge, or at the bailiff, wondering what would happen.

The judge sat there patiently while the plaintiff concluded his call.  No one moved. We may not have even been breathing.  Once the call was finished, the judge said “that call must have been very important to you.”  The plaintiff acknowledged that yes, it was a very important call, which is why he interrupted his trial to take it.  He then thanked the judge for his consideration.

The judge responded “you now have a decision to make.  Which is more important to you?  This trial, or your phone?  If you choose your phone, you can keep it and I'll grant judgment in favor of DEFENDANT.  If you choose this trial, I'll grant judgment in YOUR favor but you'll have to surrender your phone until TOMORROW MORNING.  Which do you choose?”

The man chose his phone and lost the case.

Turn off your phone.

Monday, July 1, 2019

You're inside but where's the courtroom?

The least populated county in California is Alpine County, population 1120 in 2017.
Alpine County, California
It is located high in the Sierra Nevada mountains, with elevations between 4,500 and 11,500 feet above sea level.
Welcome to Alpine County
The county seat is a town called Markleeville.
Downtown Markleeville

It has one courthouse with one courtroom and two judges.
Markleeville courthouse
In Los Angeles County, there are currently 38 courthouses in operation.
Los Angeles County
The Catalina courthouse has one courtroom and is open every other Friday in the morning only.  This courthouse serves the 4100 folks who live on Catalina Island.
Avalon, Catalina Island
Because Los Angeles is the most  populous county in California, all the other courthouses have more than just one part-time courtroom.

Courthouses with numbered courtrooms include downtown Los Angeles civil courthouse with courtrooms 1 through 99 on nine floors.  It's not that easy tho.  For example, it starts with 1, 1A [both on the 5th floor], 2, 2A, 2B, 2C [all on the 2nd floor], 2D [on the 6th floor].  After that, it's a normal progression through 99 with certain numbers skipped.  I have no idea why.

Here's a courtroom number 205A, see the sign on the right?
Courthouses with lettered courtrooms include Norwalk, with courtrooms A through Z on seven floors with certain letters skipped.

Then to really mess with your mind, there are courthouses with both lettered and numbered courtrooms.  For example, in Compton the courthouse has twelve floors and courtrooms are labeled 1 through 14, 260 and 261, A through Q, and “traffic” which apparently wasn't important enough to be assigned any number or letter.

So what do you do?  If you're in court for a traffic hearing, those courtrooms are usually on the first or second floor and are reasonably easy to find.  Just ask one of the Sheriff deputies at the security checkpoint and you'll be on your way.

Otherwise, you'll usually be able to find a marquis on the wall by the elevators/escalators with a list of courtrooms and what floor they are on. 
Check the paper you brought with you [you did bring it, right?] to find the courtroom number/letter.
The last line on the middle right shows the courtroom number
Otherwise, you might see several large screens that list the names of people who have a case on the calendar for that day.  Here's an example of one such screen.  Next to your name will be the courtroom number/letter.
If all else fails, find a court employee and ask for directions!

Let us know in the comments your last time trying to find where to go.

Come back next week to learn what to do once you find the courtroom.

Monday, June 24, 2019

You got inside but this place is huge! Where do you go?

Congratulations!  You successfully made it past security and found all your clothes.  Now what?
My ankle broke just by looking at these shoes
Step one – look at the paper you brought with you.  You did bring it, right?  The one that tells you what to do and where to go?

Is it a jury summons?  If so, in my experience most courthouses will have the jury assembly room clearly marked, with signs and sometimes even stripes on the floor.

Follow the footsteps
Follow the green line

The jury assembly room is usually large and comfy and has sections where you can watch TV [usually shows I don't want to watch], quiet sections where you can read and work [and sleep], and even an outside patio with chairs and shade umbrellas.  Tables, electric outlets, even Wifi.  All the modern conveniences because courts know how much we all do NOT want to be there.  So they try to make it as painless as possible.
Comfy jury assembly room
When you received your jury summons, did you go to the court's website?  Here in SoCal you can conveniently do lots of stuff online, like:

~Complete your registration.

~Reschedule your reporting date – if you're scheduled for a date during the school year, or you're a nursing mother, or you'll be on vacation, you can choose a different date.
~~~~Hint#1 – if you want the best odds at being selected for a panel, choose a Monday or Tuesday.  If you want the best odds at NOT being selected, choose a Thursday or Wednesday [or Friday, but in my county if you choose Friday that means you want call-in status] or a date during a week containing a holiday.
~~~~Hint#2 – if you have a job like I do, I'm scheduled in trial on certain dates and I can't be assigned to call-in status [where you call a number after 5pm every day for a week to learn whether you have to report the following day] because I'd have to clear my calendar for an entire week since I wouldn't know which date I'd have to report.  And it seems I'm always assigned to call-in status.  I reschedule to a specific date that works with my calendar.  Conversely, if you want call-in status, you can change to that.
The Jury by John Morgan 1861
 ~Learn where the jury parking lot is located [see previous blog post on how expensive it might be if you park in the wrong lot].

~Learn more information about the jury process

~Learn what things you can't bring with you to the courthouses

~Learn what amenities are available to you in the jury assembly room [wifi, electric outlets, cafeterias, etc]

Tell us in the comments about your jury experience.

If you're not in court for jury duty, come back next week!

Monday, June 17, 2019

Yikes, armed security!

You made it to the courthouse with most of your frayed nerves intact, and you still have an entire five minutes to find the right courtroom.  Congratulations!

Except … what's this long line outside?

Los Angeles DMV 1940
This is a DMV office.  Thankfully, the line outside the courthouse will USUALLY not be this long [except, of course, on the day that YOU have to be there].

Denver Colorado International Airport
This is the Denver airport.  At least these people get to wait INSIDE.

Several years ago when I had my first court hearing in the Santa Barbara courthouse, it did not have any type of security checkpoint.  I walked right in.  At first I thought I was in the wrong place, because I'd NEVER been to a courthouse without a security checkpoint.  I thought maybe I'd made a wrong turn and ended up at city hall or something.  But nope, this was the courthouse.  And it was a beauty.

Santa Barbara County Courthouse
Someone recently told me that Santa Barbara now has a security checkpoint.  But I still have the memories.

Nowadays, especially in larger cities and counties, you're guaranteed to be confronted with a security checkpoint, and the long lines it creates.  There's even a metal detector at Disneyland.

Disneyland main entrance
Bring with you: your driver's license or other ID [and for federal court, it must be a federally accepted ID], and a paper which indicates why you're in court [jury summons, case document including the case number and courtroom].  Your ID will get you inside the building.  The paperwork will remind you why you're there and help you find the courtroom.

More on what to bring in a future post.

Do NOT bring with you:  anything that might remotely be used as or considered a weapon, including aerosol spray, pepper spray, scissors, long metal knitting needles, nail clippers longer than about one inch, cigarette lighters, chains including wallet chains, large flashlights, sporting equipment, and (obviously) firearms, even if they're fake [finger guns are okay except don't show them while going through the security checkpoint].

Leave this in your pocket while going thru security
Animals except for service animals.  Alcohol or illegal drugs.  Glass containers.  Handcuffs.  Laser pointers.  It's a long list.  Each county usually has its own specialized list which you should look up online before you leave your house.  Here's the one for Los Angeles.

If security finds anything they don't like, you'll have to take it back to your car, which may be six blocks away.  In the rain.  Or if you're lucky [not lucky], snow.  And right now your legs are sore and your shoes pinch and your hearing starts in less than five minutes.  Option two is to throw the offending item in the trash can.  Sometimes it's worth choosing option two.

Federal courthouses are usually much more strict than state courthouses, but no matter where you are, prepare yourself for a TSA-like screening so you're not surprised.

Columbus airport
ALL personal property (usually including your belt, watch, shoes, and jacket) goes into a tray to run through the x-ray machine.  Then you walk in your socks on the cold floor through the metal detector.  [In the summer, this usually feels REALLY good.  In the winter, not so much.]  Allow extra time if you have a cane, walker, wheelchair, stroller, pacemaker, or prosthetic body part.  Those usually require a separate hand-screening or wanding process.

After successfully navigating the security checkpoint, collect all your personal property and get dressed again.

Fortunately, this step is no longer fashionable
In the comments, tell me about your most interesting experience with any type of security checkpoint.

Next week:  you made it inside.  Now where do you go?

Monday, June 10, 2019

Do you have a map? I can't find where we parked.

Congratulations!  Assuming you didn't take public transportation [which is usually your best option, if it's available],
Leave the driving to the professionals
and after fighting the morning rush hour traffic [you did give yourself at least an extra hour to get there, didn't you?],
This isn't Los Angeles altho it certainly could be
you finally arrive at the courthouse.  Your first order of business is to find somewhere in the same county to park your car.

Scary on the freeway, perfect for parking in Los Angeles
I work in Southern California, primarily in Los Angeles and Orange counties, but I've also been to courthouses in Santa Barbara, Ventura, San Bernardino, Riverside, and San Diego counties.  If you live in a less urban area, you'll probably just drive up, park within 50 feet of the front door, and saunter right in.  You can therefore simply read this blog post and laugh at all of us who live in SoCal or other urban counties.  We still like you.  We're just VERY envious =)
Sometimes we even look green
If you're going to court because you received the dreaded jury summons, it is likely the summons will include instructions on where to park at no charge [one of the perks, if you can call it that, of jury service].  When you get to the designated parking area, you'll usually take a ticket and when you get to the courthouse, the jury coordinator will validate it.  You MUST be parked in the lot indicated on the summons because it's the only lot that accepts the jury validation.  Be proactive [read: paranoid] about this.  Check the summons and a map twice, and verify in the jury room that you parked in the correct location.  A different location will NOT accept the jury validation.  Then you'll be out some serious cash.
This might be enough
Now for the rest of you unfortunate souls.

If you're going to one of what we term “outlying courthouses”, away from the county seat, you're usually in luck.  The courthouse parking lot is often adjacent to the courthouse, and sometimes you can actually see the courthouse from your parking space!  Many times it's even free, although sometimes you get what you pay for.

I've parked in lots with more bumps and weeds than this
And other times, you're in for a treat.  I've been to the courthouse in the below photo.  Close parking, a well-maintained and secure lot, and free!  Well, it was free the last time I was there.  I can't speak for now.
Vista courthouse in northern San Diego County
For courthouses with paid parking, some only accept cash, and sometimes it's exact change only.  Others are at the mercy of the credit card clearing system, which isn't always reliable.  So I always carry $40 cash in small bills, just in case.  Which is a good reason not to park too far away from certain courthouses, although most of the time I leave my purse/money locked in my trunk. 

In downtown Los Angeles, almost all parking within a half-mile of the courthouses [yes, there are at least five courthouses downtown] is in a structure, and will cost somewhere between $12-25 for anything longer than an hour.
This is in Long Island NY and probably costs much more than $25
Most of the time I can park 2-3 blocks from the courthouse and pay around $12.  Closer costs more.  Farther can get a little nerve-wracking if I'm leaving court after 3pm.  The night life in that area isn't the safest.
Skid Row, a few blocks from LA courthouses
If you thought San Diego would be less expensive than Los Angeles, you'd be wrong.  The last time I was in San Diego, the closest parking was about six blocks from the state courthouse [which is a LONG way in the rain while wearing a suit, trust me on that] and cost $22.  Ouch.  And federal court is worse.  When I was at the below courthouse, I parked about two blocks away [close, by San Diego standards] and gave up my entire $40 cash, which thankfully was sufficient.
Lovely old courthouse, nightmare parking
The first time I went to the San Diego central courthouse, I checked the court's website and a map to locate available parking, and it still took me 30 minutes of driving around before I found somewhere to leave my car.  [It also took me 30 minutes AFTER my hearing to find where I'd left it.]  This is yet another reason why I add at least an hour to my anticipated travel time.  Showing up to court late is not always an option, even for attorneys and even if I call the courtroom and let them know I'm still trying to find a parking place.

Hint from someone who learned the hard way – ALWAYS make a written note describing where you parked your car, and if more than a block away, also note the name of the street you walked down and the names of the streets you crossed to get to the courthouse.  Doing this will allow you to get home before midnight.  Although your view in San Diego at midnight might be worth it......
San Diego
Let me know in the comments about your most nightmarish parking experience!

Next week:  Yikes, armed security!  Will they let you inside?

Monday, June 3, 2019

Why are you in court today?

Can you believe it's already JUNE??  Time sure flies when you're having fun.  If you want to keep up with more frivolous lawsuits, here's a good website to follow:

Starting today and every Monday until the end of the year, I'll be taking you on a step-by-step journey through a typical day in court.  I hope you find it interesting and that you'll learn enough to navigate your next court appearance!

This is the US Supreme Court.  Most likely you won't be going here.
This courthouse is in Serbia.  You're not likely to be going here either.
This courthouse is in Orange County Florida.  For heavily-populated counties, your courthouses probably look like this
This courthouse is in Orange County North Carolina.  For moderately-populated counties, your courthouses probably look like this
This courthouse is in Orange County Vermont.  For sparsely-populated counties, your courthouses probably look like this.
Here's a sample of what we'll be discussing:
Today – why are you in court in the first place?
Next week – congratulations, you found the courthouse!  Now where do you park your car?
yikes, armed security!  Will they let you inside?
Even later – you got inside, but this place is huge!  Where do you go?
Later still – you found the courtroom.  Now what?

Today we'll talk about why you're going to court in the first place.  If you're a normal American citizen [and not, for example, a lawyer], you are NOT happy to be at court. 

Mr. Frowny Fish
Most normal people you see in a courthouse on any given day are only there because they have no choice.  It's like your general education classes in college, which you signed up and paid for because they're required, not because you had the slightest interest in them.
You've never done this?  I don't believe you.
The court staff and the lawyers are also there because it's required, but we're PAID to be there.  Not like you.  Most likely you had to take a day off work.  And it's also likely that the get-the-work-done fairies will not visit your desk while you're at court, and everything will STILL be there tomorrow and you'll be a day late in finishing it.  MWAHAHAHAHA

Wait.  That's a lawyer's curse too.  Drat. 
This is obviously the wrong photo
This looks more accurate
The four most common reasons why you, as a normal American citizen [eg:  not a lawyer], find yourself in a courthouse are because (1) you received a dreaded jury summons and all your efforts to get out of it failed,
Everyone's favorite mail
or (2) you received an even more dreaded traffic ticket and you were only driving one mile per hour over the speed limit and the guy next to you just passed you doing at least fifty miles per hour over the limit so why did you get the ticket and not him and you are not just going to voluntarily pay this extortion and how can you even get a speeding ticket when you live in LOS ANGELES for heaven's sake,
The red taillights are a good indicator that you're in Los Angeles now
or (3) you are suing or being sued in small claims court, or (4) you and your spouse are divorcing.

It's no wonder you're not happy to be in court.

Yep, this is what you look like
Let me know in the comments the reason why YOU were in court!

Next week:  You found the courthouse.  Now where do you park?