It was just last Tuesday that I entered a court room as a defendant for the first time in my life. I had prepared for numerous possible scenarios, but not for what actually happened. After a brief partial roll call, a court clerk called a second set of names, and after each name, announced "charges dismissed", please collect your slip from the [other] court clerk. My name was the second one called.
This all started a little over three months ago last October with the lamest ticket I ever got. I had just gotten a ride back from an Instructables "build party" back to the Borders/Safeway China Basin parking structure where I got in my car and took off down Townsend to Division en route to the Haight. While driving along Division I came upon several emergency vehicles pulled over to the right side of the road with their lights on. Naturally I slowed down to be cautious. A police officer was standing near the vehicles, towards the road, and waving his flashlight at me back and forth horizontally as if to motion to me move along, which I did.
Moments later I see that I'm being pulled over. After the license and registration ritual the officer asked me impatiently if I knew why I was being pulled over and I said no. He asked me why didn't I stop when he held his hand up for me to stop. I told him all I saw was him waving his flashlight back and forth to move along. It was dark, and he wasn't very visible. He insisted on his version of the events and I simply stated "I'm sorry, that's not what I saw, nor how I interpreted what I saw." He took my information and wrote me a ticket for "Failure to Yield to Emergency Vehicle(s)".
I was so upset by the ridiculousness of this ticket that I immediately drove to where my friend Jess had checked in via dodgeball (Martuni's), which happened to be mere blocks from where I was. Though she was happy to see me, she could tell I was upset and after inquiring I told her what had happened. She concurred with me about the ridiculousness of the ticket and promised to help me fight it.
I emailed her to follow-up and did a braindump of what happened that night, step by step. Jess suggested several good online resources (Nolo press affiliated) for fighting traffic tickets. When I finally went to court in person to make an appointment for a hearing (which you do, perhaps not coincidentally, in Room 101), given the option of entering a plea at that time, I emphatically and confidently pled "not guilty", and reserved the last possible available date that they had at the time in order to postpone worrying about the details as long as possible. Note that the ticket gave me the option of attending traffic school, but given how egregiously wrong the citation was, I felt that fighting the ticket was a moral imperative.
I picked up the Nolo press "Fight Your Ticket and Win in California" book, and quickly read the relevant sections. It didn't take a genius to figure out that key elements of the law I was cited under were not satisfied. I prepared cropped views of maps, a hand-drawn diagram of where the cars were that night, notes on procedures/questions, and a solid black flashlight to use as a prop to demonstrate the back and forth lateral motion that I saw the police officer make that night.
Realizing that the truth was on my side for an overhwelming victory, I brainstormed about a half dozen possible "stories" that the citing officer could tell in attempt to prove the ticket valid, and a list of cross-examination questions for me to use in following-up to poke holes in any such "stories". In short, I was ready. Perhaps those many years of highschool oxford debate, research, preparations, and debates themselves were finally coming in handy.
When my court date finally arrived (coincidentally the same day as the start of MacWorld SF this year) I dressed up in an outfit resembling a suit, printed all the materials I thought I would need, brought my Moleskin notebook and a nice Fenwick & West LLP pen with the assumption that I might have to do everything "analog", without the use of any digital devices all, and took a cab to the San Francisco Hall of Justice.
I got there 15 minutes early. And spent 5 minutes just dealing with entry through the metal detector. After taking the elevator the second floor, around the corner I found the "Court Calendar Index" posting of DEFENDANTS along with various details (LOCATION, TYPE, DOCKET NUMBER), and a hallway packed full of folks waiting for the "Dept. A" courtroom itself to open its doors.
At precisely 10:30am a uniformed officer opened the court doors and invited everyone to have a seat inside. He proceeded to do a roll call and instructed everyone to turn off cell phones and pagers. He didn't call everyone, and said "Please be patient, your name will be called." After an errant cell phone ring or two, the officer noted that "The judge may ask you to leave if your cell phone goes off, and you will have to reschedule."
Shortly after the officer's warning, a court clerk began reading a second set of names, and after each name, announced "charges dismissed", please collect your slip from the [other] court clerk. My name was the second one called. I got up to get the slip and double-check my name and there it was.
As I left the Hall of Justice a mere 12 minutes after the court room had opened, the sun seemed to shine especially bright that day, and the air taste particularly fresh. The inevitable surge of adrenaline already kicking in, I could barely restrain the urge to leap with fist outstretched and exclaim a victory yell.
I decided to walk to work (only 6-7 blocks away), stop at Caffe Centro to grab a victory espresso en route, and invited friends via Dodgeball and Twitter for a coffee drink on me. Ben Brown, Leah Culver, and Schlomo came by and I ran into another friend Matt. After recounting my story, some espresso, and a quick snack, I ran into Andrei and we walked back to the office.
There is nothing like the feeling of victory and justice from winning your first court case (even if it was just from declaring myself "not guilty" to a court appointment clerk, and showing up to the hearing). I felt incredibly empowered and vowed that should I ever get a ticket in the future that was at all shady or incorrect, that I would fight it instead of simply going to traffic school and bowing to the Man's implied/asserted authority. I encourage you to do the same.
Carla noted that none of my New Years Resolutions 2007 involved in-person interactions. Coincidentally Liane had sent this article to me days earlier which very much resonated with my own personal experiences on the subject: Angry/negative people can be bad for your brain. Thus I twittered one more resolution:
filtering comms & reducing interactions w negative people in 2007 per http://headrush.typepad.com/...
Reading Kathy's article made me realize that regularly directed and/or consistent anger, negativity, bitterness, etc. are effectively psychological warfare, whether that is the intent of such emotions or not. In a world of information and interaction overload where our filters are already overwhelmed, do we have any choice but to take the necessary steps to defend ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities against such attacks?
From reviewing my December 2005 and January 2006 archives, it appears I didn't have any 2006 resolutions. Maybe I was too busy and forgot. I had certainly forgotten how bad 2006 started until I reread my archives, with a loss and recovery of my motorcycle, and illness soon thereafter. The most recent previous resolutions I could find on my blog were for 2005.
In reviewing those past resolutions, in short, I've successfully incorporated two of them (5. More time with people close to me e.g. family, and 6. publish bits of my blog in microformats). I'm deliberately not renewing #1. I fully expect this year, like last, will be a year of creation more than closure. The remaining three however I am renewing. With that, here are my resolutions for 2007.
And thus I have written the first blog post from the promised list. I think five resolutions is a good start - not too easy, and not so much to ask that they are out of reach. A balanced challenge. And fives seem to be a bit of a meta-meme among blogs. What are your five New Years Resolutions for 2007?