Search This Blog

Monday, November 8, 2010

Here comes the Judge!

Until I started writing, I was unaware of the extent of my 'irrational fear'. I had planned to continue with a story about a recent trip which would ultimately include my irrational fear of flying. I could be very modern and call it a 'syndrome'. Here in Texas (and perhaps throughout the rest of the continental USA) every other advert seems to be medication for a 'syndrome'. Things that we once thought were normal, everyday occurances, now have a posh name. But I digress. I had thought my digressing to be a flaw in my character, but perhaps, if I wait long enough, it will be given a name and thus I will be a sufferer of another 'syndrome'.

Instead of making this into an irrational fear series, I decided to branch out along another path, just for the time being!

The Americanisation of Tracie may be a slow process, but the Texanisation of Tracie will take much longer.

Our occupational business is one of delivering court documents, such as summonses and subpoenas. There is a lot of interaction with attorneys who occasionally come to our office to drop off their papers for delivery to defendants in their impending law suit. It is not uncommon for them to be dressed in jeans and t-shirts and their feet shod in flip-flops or not shod at all. If 'casual Friday's' were any moreso, a high percentage of the Austin population would be risking counts of indecent exposure. Of course, there is always the exception to the rule, and in this instance, the exception would be 'moi'!

I have to confess that although I have become far more laid back and taken the Texan approach to most things, if I am not 'dressed' for work, my mind is not 'dressed' for work. As the rest of the staff enter the office wearing shorts, jeans or joggers, I am in a tailored suit. My idea of casual is to wear a round necked top instead of a blouse. This probably stems from the fact that I am not as confident as I first appear.

As a child I was painfully shy (honestly!) and still feel the pressure when plunged into a new environment. My constant chatter is normally no more than bravado. I dont wish to overpower my new associates but I do not want to present as an underachiever. Therefore, power dressing is a necessity to maintain my composure rather than to intimidate.

My fancy attire is usually not seen outside the office, but occasionally I am let loose into the city and visit offices to pick up papers, or go to the Courthouse to collect or file papers. I am used to English courthouses which are generally places the general public wish to avoid. My experience has been that they are very daunting and definitely not a place for frivolity. My first trip to the Courthouse, in Austin, was very overwhelming.

The buzzing of the metal detector set the pace for the rest of the visit. However, once they decided that I was not carrying a lethal weapon and the wiring in my upper undergarmet (which was what apparently had caused the scare) would hardly constitute as a threat to the general populus, I was allowed to enter. As I continued into the bright and airy building, heads turned my way. The object of their attention was not the smart navy suit that I had decided to wear, but the beautiful new matching navy shoes. I would like to say it was the classic style and beautiful colour that caused the interest but it was the heels that were the source of, what appeared to be, amusement. As I walked along the stoney floor, my heels click-clacked like a flamenco dancer's footwear. To make matters worse, I had to climb two sets of stairs to reach the court room where I was going to have to present some papers to a judge.

(If a Texas court document is not able to be personally delived to the named person, we apply for an order to deliver to someone else at their address or post it to the door, or send it by first class mail - read on to see how the words 'post' and 'mail' managed to get me into trouble again and terribly tongue tied!)

I made my way to the courtroom and walked in with an air of confidence that would have convinced anyone, and everyone, that I had done this many, many times before. The room was very small, and empty. I guessed I must be in the antechamber and headed for the door straight ahead. As I stretched my arm forward to the handle, the door opened and out walked the Judge! Not quite attired in his black robe, he asked me if I needed help! He had NO idea! I managed to explain that I was here for 'uncontested docket', and needed to get into the room, from which he had exited, to get some papers signed. Very gently, he escorted me back into the corridor and told me that I had, in fact, walked into his chambers and that I needed to go into the main courtroom. He said he would happily take care of my papers once he was allowed to get dressed for the occasion. I thanked him and departed, backwards, with a degree of curtsy dipping.

Completely deflated, and by now wishing I had broken in my shoes before attempting to wear them for the first time for a whole day, I walked, less confidently, into the courtroom. I was, again, thankfully, the only person in the courtroom. I sat down, checked my papers and as I began to wonder why no one had appeared, a short, stocky woman walked into the room and snapped, 'which side are you?' I was rather confused and managed to utter a whispered, 'I'm sorry'. She repeated, 'Which side, defendant or plaintiff?'.

Once again, I left in search of the 'other' courtroom, and metophorically crawled through the door into a very crowded room. I dragged myself to the front of the room, handed my papers to the clerk and click clacked my way back to the seating area, where no sooner did I drop into a seat, was I commanded to 'stand' as the judge entered. As he took his seat, we all sat and he looked directly at me, with a wry grin, and gave me a very subtle nod.

I sat, engrossed in the proceedings, almost fell out of my chair when an attorney walked up to the bench and greeted the presiding official with, 'hey judge, how ya doing today', and then almost squeeled when the judge replied, 'Doing good'. As I said, if it were any more laid back.....

Pretty soon, the judge called my case and I click-clacked to the bench. I was all prepared to greet him with some sort of appropriate remark, such as 'good afternoon, your honour', but by the time I had finished triping over my tongue, a simple 'hello' would have been preferable to the nonsensicle blabbering that emitted from my mouth. Finally, I decided a simple smile would suffice and. as he returned my papers to me, I backed out of the room, performing an almost a half curtsy, and didn't turn to face the way I was supposed to be going until I was out of sight. I made my way along to the clerks' office to have the papers stamped and dated, and found, to my horror, that the judge had not actually signed the papers! The clerk, quite calmly, told me I would have to go back and get his signature.

Picture, if you will, a full courtroom, a judge sitting on a chair behind a bench, that was almost eye level to me, a clerk sitting next to him, an attorney pleading for his client, and me. making my way, as quietly and inconspicuously as I could, considering my feet thought they were in a performance of Riverdance, to the front of the room to get my piece of paper signed. The room became silent, everyone became still, with only their eyes moving, following me. I swear I heard an echo as I click-clacked across the room and whispered to the clerk, 'He didnt sign it!'. The judge, looking rather disgruntled, asked the clerk, 'What now!' The clerk explained my predicament and the judge waved his hands forward, suggesting the clerk give him the papers. I stood very still. The judge looked at me and said; 'You want me to sign it now?' I smiled, and I dont know why, or how, but I said in a very confident, reasonably loud voice, 'Yes, please!' To use an old cliche, you could have heard a pin drop! The judge signed the papers and handed them back to me. I thanked him, walked backwards, sub-consciously bowing as I exited and as I left the room I heard the judge say, 'She is very young, isn't she!' The courtroom erupted with hysterical laughter, and I walked back to the clerk, smarting slightly, but smiling at the thought that everyone thought I was just a young girl, not understanding the system. I was later told that the latter was true. I did not understand the system. The former, however, referred to the latter. He was not referring to my age, but my lack of experience. What did they expect from an Englishwoman abroad!

And so, a few days later, the client called to ask for status on the papers. I duly reported, with an amount of glee, that the order had been signed and the papers had been posted. 'POSTED!', she screamed; 'The Order said it was to be mailed!' I replied that it was mailed and that I had used the word posted in error, due to the language difference. She once again asked me to clarify how the papers were delivered and was not completely confident that I had adhered to the order. I did what any professional would do in this instant. I passed the call to someone else! It was not the first, nor will it be the last time that my lack of American English will get me into trouble.

I have returned to the Courthouse many times and most of the time I buzz when going through the metal detector. Given enough notice, I wear soft soled shoes. Once they realised which Company I worked for (Dana has been in the business for nearly 24 years) the staff warmed to me, and then they warmed even more when I recited (and continue to recite) my party piece, 'they dont let me out very often'.

I still suffer from hypertension when Roger (our friend and co-worker who does the 'Courthouse run') calls to say he wont be into work, but the fear soon subsides and bravado prevails. It has also given me the push to take a law degree, which I plan to venture upon in the not too distant future. Going back to school may prove to be.....another story.

1 comment:

  1. Great read!! Go for it Girlfriend - A Law Degree! wow! what an inspiration you are to all!!! :)