I recently spent some time in the St. Louis municipal court system, and, even though I was just there to ask for a continuance for a friend's incredibly minor offense, I expected something incredibly dramatic. Sure, I was only in traffic court, so maybe it was a bit unrealistic to expect to see a lawyer call a surprise witness to the stand only to reveal the victim of some horrible crime, completely covered in 3rd degree burns. Instead, I found no surprise witnesses, very few lawyers, and the realization that Law and Order has been lying to me my entire life.
Entering the courtroom
I expected some sort of beautiful miracle of modern architecture with marble floors and walls as I waited for a judge to hear my case. This was not my reality; instead I found a lineup of chairs and absolutely no marble. Needless to say, I was pretty underwhelmed.
In addition, I kind of thought that there would be hardened criminals in orange jumpsuits with face tattoos that read, "yeah I did it, and I'll do it again." Sure, there were a few face tattoos (much to my dismay, none of them were funny, offensive, nor threatening), but I was upset to learn that the most severe offense anyone in the room could have committed was a DUI.
I also expected blonde lawyers in navy suits with 9 inch heels talking on their phones trying to console their clients and their families. The closest I got to this was a woman sitting in the waiting room who was talking on the phone to what I assume was a friend. I don't think she was giving legal counsel, however, because at one point she used the phrase, "if she don't shut up, I will cut the bitch's tongue out. You know how I do." From that point on I was very careful to make sure my tongue was doing nothing that could lead to its removal from my mouth.
Law and Order really let my down here too. I expected Sam Waterston to be the defense attorney for almost everyone in the room. Instead, there were only three lawyers there. And one of them had a man-ponytail. Note to self: if you ever do something illegal, do not get a lawyer with a ponytail. They will bring you nothing but false hope, hideous argyle sweaters, and obnoxious pink man-scarves.
No one ever used the phrase "on the docket," the judge and bailiff were not nearly as rotund as I had expected, and the phrase, "objection, your honor" was not used a single time. Actually, the closest there was to a dramatic moment was when the bailiff had to tell a mother and her daughter to stop talking. I don't think the judge even had a gavel, which makes me wonder whether he even had a law degree.
Making My Case
I expected this to be fun, I was going to use the phrase "I'm out of order!?! You're out of order!" and then I'd yell "gavel" a bunch of times as the bailiff carried my flailing body out of the room. Unfortunately, I was not nearly brave enough to be held in contempt of court (is that just a TV thing too!?!) and instead I meekly asked for my friend's continuance, like I was supposed to.
And even following the rules was less interesting than expected. I thought that I'd have to make my case, and then I'd go off on several tangents and would be accused of wasting the court's time and money; but none of that happened. Instead, I was just asked why the defendant couldn't be there herself, and when I explained, he was just kind of like "cool, here's another court date, bye."
The whole situation really made me lose faith in the potential of our legal system to make good television. And, worst of all, it seems like Arrested Development lied to me too.