Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Some of Dad's stories

Dad had a ton of stories about his times as a lawyer and as judge. Here's some of the ones I remember best. I wish I could tell them exactly as he did. I had always wanted to whip out the recorder when he was storytelling but never did. He died a year ago today.

Times as a judge

Tree-ing while Drunk

One night, deep in the backwoods of Tuckahoe, a driver swerved off the
road, and wrecked his car. He called in the accident on his cellphone,
and stepped up onto a grassy knoll, where bloodied and bruised, he sat
up against a tree, to wait.

There he waited, and waited.

The State Police didn't arrive until about two and a half hours
later. You have to know that back then and back there that there was
no local police force for miles and miles. The only police responsible
for the area were from the State - and they didn't really get off the
main highway much, and the roads were dark and many were unmarked.

My guess is that they got lost...

Anyway, the state police arrived, and they found that driver, peeing
against that tree, with a bottle of Jack Daniels nearby. He was
happy enough to see everybody until they breathalized him, found an
alcohol content of something rather high, then charged him with driving
drunk and hauled him off to jail, not even bothering to stop in at the

All the way the driver complained that he hadn't started drinking
until after he got bored and as he was in pain, "what else would you
do in the middle of nowhere while you waited for youse guys to arrive"?

He made the same argument in court later, and after looking at the
timestamps between the callin and arrival, Dad agreed with the
defendant that drinking was a good way to spend the rest of that lousy
evening, with his wrecked car, so he let him off.

It utterly infuriated the state cops involved! They thought they had a clean

But, Dad pointed out: that while there were laws against drinking while
in a car, there wasn't a law that applied to drinking while against a

They'd charged the defendant with drunk driving, not drunk tree-ing,
and sufficient time had passed between the driving part and the
tree-ing part to supply reasonable doubt.

Brandishing it

Another time there was a southerner, who had driven up from Texas to visit
his niece in NJ. He blew a red light, and a cop caught him at it and
pulled him over. The cop saw the out of state plates, and ALSO noticed
a rifle in the back seat, so he stepped away from the car carefully -
and did all the things a cop does to keep things cool while a
potential crazy with a gun is in front of you - like calling for backup to
surround the vehicle to get the Texan out. They then bent him over the car
with handcuffs to arrest him for possession of an illegal weapon.

In a pre-trial conference call later the Texan called his lawyer back
home, who simply didn't understand that people in NJ didn't carry rifles
in the back of their pickups 'around heah.

His attorney just didn't get the reason for the bust on the gun
thing. He kept asking:

"Was he brandishing it?"

And the prosecuting attorney went to great lengths to explain the
time of day, the routinue traffic stop, the out of state plates, the
presence of a weapon being illegal without a permit...

"But was he brandishing it??"

And the prosecuting attorney, beginning to turn blue in the face,
would explain the statute, the fact that you simply don't carry guns
in the back seat in NJ, and the guy on the other side of the line
would interrupt and say:

"If he wasn't brandishing it that's fine. What's the problem?"

And the prosecuting attorney would start repeating himself and the
attorney on the other side would start repeating himself and the
conversation kept circling back to the established fact that the Texan
was not indeed brandishing the weapon, that he'd co-operated with
authorities, that he'd made an honest mistake and neither he nor his
attorney still can believe that you can't carry a gun everywhere in
this heah ole USA and...

I don't recall what ultimately happened with this case, but Dad loved
recounting (complete with the southern accents) the adamant disbelief of
both driver and his attorney that someone could get busted for having
an unloaded weapon in his car, in other parts of the country than

"Was he brandishing it??"

Trying pot

Dad spent time in the army after the Korean war, but didn't actually
go anywhere, merely spending 6 years in the reserves.

He worked a variety of odd jobs while he finished his degree,
Cambell's soup in particular.

After graduating he became a lawyer in Ocean City, NJ, and also was
involved in the Cape May County Prosecutors office and the local
municipal court. He lived a really straight and normal life, and
wasn't exposed to a lot of things that happened elsewhere.

I'm not going to say when or where exactly this story happened because
I'm not sure all the "miscreants" are safely retired yet - although
the statute of limitations has certainly run out! - so I'm going to
fudge this story a lot unless someone else wants to come forward
with the whole truth.

But it was the 1960s...

One day there was a bust, and the cop showing off the amount of
marijuana acquired was suddenly called away to do something else.

And there, on the office desk, he'd (accidentally?) left this enormous
bag of pot. Nobody knew what to do with it, it hadn't been checked
in as evidence yet, and yet everyone in the office was so straight and
normal as to having never tried the devils weed, and yet, there it was...

People went in and out, trying not to notice it. They didn't know to
put it away, or how to find the cop - nobody knew who he was! or what -
but even touching the bag, moving it one inch - seemed like a
potential crime, so there it sat... all day.

After work, the bag was still there, the cop hadn't come back, and dad
and a few of the people working late got to talking about how odd it
was to make such draconian law against something that was so commonly
used, and what did the stuff do, exactly, and they were young and
foolish and trusted each other enough to finally say - "well, hell,
let's do some research."

Obviously, cookies were needed. So someone went out and bought a bunch
of cookies.

They locked and sealed up under all the doors, put blinds up over
the windows, failed to figure out how to roll a joint (they ended up
using a toilet paper roll), and smoked some. Even over the ever-present
cigarette smoke of the era it stunk up the place, which they didn't
quite expect.

Dad remembers that they laughed a lot, but then they all got very,
very, very paranoid - they were in the law business after all and what
they'd just done carried seriously heavy penalties back then! My god,
what would have happened if someone walked in and seen them red-eyed and huddled
over the cookies!? They'd know! For sure! Their careers would be
ruined! And suddenly they could just smell pot, smell it, everywhere,
it was in everything... So they (casually, they thought) stumbled
around the office, and opened all the windows, turned on all the fans,
and did whatever they could to get the stink out.

And the next morning, the bag was still in exactly the same spot,
only a tiny bit lighter, until someone arranged to get it into evidence.

Everybody remarked on how the stuff in the bag had stunk up the place,
even with the windows open overnight. The miscreants were extremely
discrete that day, and frightened forever-more.

So far as I know that was the only time Dad ever tried pot. Dad
otherwise missed most of the 60s, as best as I can tell. I don't think
he ever even got any secondary smoke. Except for the Simon and
Garfunkle and Beatles records downstairs I played while growing up,
there wasn't a sign of the slightest hippie influence until I showed

Over the years we argued drug legalization a lot. I switched my
viewpoint a half dozen times, his was always the opposite. To this day
I don't know what he really thought, and I'm not going to put up
what I learned from that debate here as it detracts from the story above.

You gotta keep your numbers up

Periodically Trenton would send down a bright-eyed and bushy tailed
young bureaucrat to explain to Dad that he wasn't convicting enough
people, wasn't throwing enough people in jail compared to the other
districts, and that he "had to get his numbers up". Dad would pretend
to listen, patiently, and then find a way to boot him or her out the
door, so he could get on with keeping a human aspect to the law.

Dad enjoyed giving a first time offender a big scare about jail, but
if there was adequate support at home or a treatment program, that was
generally the way his sentencing ran.

Every year, it was always a different "kid" showing up with the same
message, and every year Dad found more creative ways to avoid them.

Dad was a judge in Ocean City and Tuckahoe for over 20 years, and never
did get his numbers up.