Tag Archives: Courtroom

Chocolate: A Comic Courtroom Play (Scene 8)

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Hyrum (9) enjoying the feel of a federal district court judge’s chair.

No matter how compelling the evidence and the argument, the fate of any case, and the people involved, is in the hands of the judge (or the whims of the jury).  Outcomes are rarely predictable.  What do you think about this case?  Which way should the scales of justice tip?  Well, let’s check in on Judge Stone for this final scene of Chocolate.

CHOCOLATE: A COMIC PLAY IN ONE ACT
by Roger Evans Baker

The Characters:
• The Honorable Marsha P. Stone, Judge of the 13th District Court
• Mr. John Butcher, Prosecuting Attorney
• Mr. Gil Sullivan, Defense Attorney
• Victor S. Bull, the Defendant
• Ashton “Flapper” Cuff, Court Bailiff
• Officer Harold Ketchum, Police Officer
• Vickie Hicks, Bull’s 17-year-old niece
• Judd “Snoops” Lawson, Bull’s duplex neighbor
• Ernest “Tubby” Brown, Bull’s drinking buddy
• Winowna Darling Bull, Bull’s 76-year-old mother

MR. BUTCHER. (again, almost singing) No further questions.

MR. SULLIVAN. (deflated): No further witnesses, Mayam.

JUDGE STONE. Good. I mean, very well. Mr. Butcher, do you have a closing statement, or do you submit it to the judgment of the Court?

MR. BUTCHER. (catching the hint, but letting go with difficulty) Well, I have saved by most eloquent argument for closing, Your Honor, but I’ll submit it if Your Honor wishes.

JUDGE STONE. I do wish it. Mr. Sullivan, what do you have to say on behalf of your client?

MR. SULLIVAN. (grumbling, becoming agitated) Well, Your Honor, Mayam, it’s just as I said before. It’s all lies. And I’ll tell you somethin’ else. It’s more than just lies. It’s downright evil: the government cavortin’ with liars and deceivers to put an innocent man behind bars and shame him forever. What’s this country comin’ to? I’m tellin’ you, justice means nothin’ in the face of such conspiracy! I trust that a judge as intelligent and discerning as Yourself can see that, can see through the trickster’s smoke and mirrors, and find it within your heart to let an innocent man go free.

JUDGE STONE. Your brief rebuttal, Mr. Butcher?

MR. BUTCHER. (indignant) Conspiracy shmiracy, I say. He’s paranoid! I’ve never heard a more ridiculous story than the one this rascal tried to pawn to this discerning Court. Even I saw through it, I mean, well, you know what I mean. The rogue is guilty.

MR. SULLIVAN. (aside to Butcher) It’s a good thing for you this is a public defender case, Butcher, or I’d have your hide. You just watch your step with my high-paying clients, (under his breath) if I ever get any.

JUDGE STONE. (condescendingly) Well, then. I am prepared to pronounce my judgment. Mr. Bull, I have no doubt that whilst in the course of drunken tirade you did indeed manifest a dangerous weapon, i.e., a loaded firearm, in a threatening manner, thereby instilling terror in the heart of your victim. Your, hmm, defense notwithstanding, I find you guilty as charged. I also find you guilty of discharging a gun within the corporate limits of Sherman City, of public intoxication, of disorderly conduct, and of otherwise disturbing the peace.

MR. SULLIVAN. (outraged) You can’t do that Your Honor! Those crimes weren’t even charged!

JUDGE STONE. (incensed at being openly challenged) I’m the judge, this is my court, and I’ll do as I please. Do you hear! And I find that Mr. Bull did commit all of the above-enumerated crimes. (taking a moment to regain her dignified composure) I shall now pronounce sentence. For each crime the defendant shall pay a fine of $100 dollars, for a total of $500, plus a 200% surcharge to go the State to fund victim reparation programs, school non-violence programs, gun safety education programs, and judicial retirement programs. The total is, let’s see, $1,500. For each crime the defendant shall serve six months, each sentence consecutive (that means back-to-back, Mr. Bull). That’s two years. (long pause, then sounding pleased with her leniency) But I’ll suspend all the jail time upon full payment of the fine and completion of one-thousand hours of community service at the nursing home, where I hope you’ll learn some compassion and some patience and some manners. Court is now adjourned! (the judge suddenly rises and moves toward her chambers)

MR. SULLIVAN. (furious, as the judge descends from the dais) Butcher, you scoundrel, you prejudiced the Judge with all your talk of barbarian and rogue and rascal!

MR. BUTCHER. (defensive) What about you and all your chocolate licking?

BAILIFF FLAPPER. (in sergeant’s mode again, his eyes fixed dutifully on the departing judge) All arise! The most Honorable Judge Marsha P. Stone has departed the judicial chair and this Court is now hereby adjourned!

JUDGE STONE. (rolling her eyes and smiling coquettishly over her shoulder as she enters her chambers) Really, Flapper!

THE END.

[I sincerely hope that you have enjoyed my little play.]

Chocolate: A Comic Courtroom Play (Scene 1)

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Hyrum (13) sitting in the chair of a federal bankruptcy judge in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Nearly 20 years ago I prosecuted a man for pointing a gun at his wife during an argument.  My two oldest children, Brian (then 8) and Erin (then 6) sat in the first row on the edge of their seat, their eyes wide in anticipation of seeing their dad in action.  This play is based on the facts and characters of the actual trial (which I won).  Some of the characters very closely resemble real people.  Others are totally fictitious.  I, of course, do not resemble Mr. Butcher in the slightest.  I hope you enjoy this comic play in one act, posted scene by scene each day over the next week.

CHOCOLATE: A COMIC PLAY IN ONE ACT
by Roger Evans Baker

The Characters:
• The Honorable Marsha P. Stone, Judge of the 13th District Court
• Mr. John Butcher, Prosecuting Attorney
• Mr. Gil Sullivan, Defense Attorney
• Victor S. Bull, the Defendant
• Ashton “Flapper” Cuff, Court Bailiff
• Officer Harold Ketchum, Police Officer
• Vickie Hicks, Bull’s 17-year-old niece
• Judd “Snoops” Lawson, Bull’s duplex neighbor
• Ernest “Tubby” Brown, Bull’s drinking buddy
• Winowna Darling Bull, Bull’s 76-year-old mother

The Scene: From a raised judicial dais, an elegant leather judge’s chair stares out over the country courtroom. Beneath the bench stand two scratched and peeling wood-veneer tables. At one table sits the State, incarnate in the prosecutor, who nervously awaits announcement of the judge’s appearance. At the other sits the defendant, in new jeans and new t-shirt, who leans over repeatedly to whisper to his attorney, himself dressed in jeans, but with a shirt, tie, and leather- elbowed jacket. The bailiff, weathered and toothless, slouches in his chair waiting for the judge’s arrival. Behind the bar, rows of orange-cloth benches contain an assortment of characters in a variety of dress, from stained t-shirts and holey denims to suits and ties, one of the latter often sitting by one of the former. With a deep sense of her own importance, the judge enters the courtroom without warning, and the bailiff springs to his feet, hurrying to fulfill his function with all the dignity he can muster.

BAILIFF ASHTON “FLAPPER” CUFF. (loud and crisp, like a trumpet heralding the queen’s appearance) All arise! The 13th District Court is now in session with the Honorable Marsha P. Stone presiding! Please be silent and orderly throughout these judicial proceedings!

JUDGE STONE. (rolling her eyes and waiving a delicate hand at the wrist) Thank you, Flapper. That will do.

FLAPPER. (unabashed) You may now be seated!

JUDGE STONE. (cheerfully) Very well. Shall we begin? Let’s see. The first case on this morning’s busy, busy calendar is State v. Victor S. Bull, for threatening with a dangerous weapon. (With a dismayed shake of the head; to herself, but so that everyone can hear.) My, my, what is the world coming to? (Resuming her normal voice.) The State appears to be represented by Mr. Butcher, and the defendant, Mr. Bull, is obviously represented by Mr. Sullivan. (Audible aside to Mr. Sullivan.) Really, Gil, the least you could do is trade in your denims and tweed for a suit.

MR. SULLIVAN. (swaggering, with a country-western twang) You know me, Mayam. No frills. What you see is what you get.

JUDGE STONE. (disdainfully) Apparently. Well. Are we ready to proceed with the trial, Mr. Butcher.

MR. BUTCHER. (chipper and confident) Yes, Your Honor. Ready as always.

JUDGE STONE. That’s a good fellow. Are we ready, Mr. Sullivan?

MR. SULLIVAN. I reckon.

JUDGE STONE. (looking at her elegant watch with affected disinterest) Yes. Well. I suppose you have an opening statement, Mr. Butcher.

MR. BUTCHER. (hesitating at the Judge’s tone) Of course, Your Honor, but a brief one. You see, on the night of July 7th, this very man, sitting at this very table, came home drunk after hours at the Dead Donkey Saloon. (The prosecutor’s voice begins to rise, sounding accusing and contemptuous.) Then this man–no, hardly a man–this scoundrel had the audacity to accuse his wife, (who happens to be a bar maid at the Dead Donkey), of cheating on him. He got in her face, spewing fumey insults. She was understandably disturbed by this animal behavior, pushed him away, and called him a fitting expletive, something resembling an animal’s backside. In vicious response, this barbaric male, a disgrace to the sex–

MR. SULLIVAN. (indignantly) Now hold on there, pardner. Judge—Mayam—“hardly a man” is one thing; “scoundrel” is another thing; but “barbaric male” and “disgrace” are downright nasty. Hundreds of people in this town drink. They’re just havin’ a good time with their buddies. My client here is no barbarian, and I’ll ask the persecutor here to mind his manners.

JUDGE STONE. (patronizingly) You were getting a little out of hand, you know, Mr. Butcher. Continue with your brief opening statement, but please discipline yourself.

MR. BUTCHER. (humbly) Yes, Your Honor. I’m sorry, Your Honor. When I think about this, person, I just become excited, you know, heated, riled. (His voice rising.) My blood begins to boil.

JUDGE STONE. (in a warning tone) Mr. Butcher.

MR. BUTCHER. (sincerely humble) I do apologize, Your Honor; I’ll try really hard to be civil.

JUDGE STONE. You do that. Go on.

MR. BUTCHER. (making an obvious effort to remain calm, but quickly becoming animated) As I was saying, to his wife’s very normal reaction of calling her staggering, screaming husband a “horse’s ass,” he lurched for the closet, whence he withdrew a loaded gun, and waived it around, repeating, “So I’m a horse’s ass, am I?” Then he actually fired the gun. Blasted a hole through the ceiling, right into their bedroom and through their bed. Scared for her life, she grabbed her sweet niece, Vickie–who, thank God, is still with us today–and they ran, barefoot, to the gas station two blocks away to call the police. When the police arrived, was Victor Bull in the house? No. Is he anywhere to be found? No! (Triumphantly.) Ah, but the diligent Officer Ketchum did find him, hiding, pretending to be asleep–

JUDGE STONE. (with authority, to an agitated Mr. Bull) Mr. Bull! Please! You must control yourself. If you cannot sit still in your seat, I shall have the bailiff shackle your legs to it. And no more grunting or moaning noises. In due time you’ll have a chance to tell your side of the story. (To herself.) I’m sure there is one. (Resuming her normal voice.) Are you quite finished, Mr. Butcher?

MR. BUTCHER. Yes, Your Honor. Almost, Your Honor.

JUDGE STONE. (affecting weariness) Very well. Do continue.

MR. BUTCHER. (calmer, but still excited) As I was saying, Your Honor, Officer Ketchum found the defendant hiding, pretending to be asleep. (With absolute conviction.) This man is guilty, Your Honor. Oh is he guilty: guilty as a boot stuck in the cold March mud.

JUDGE STONE. (affecting disinterest) Yes. Well. I’m sure you have an opening statement of your own, Mr. Sullivan.

MR. SULLIVAN. (confidently) Darn right, Mayam. Short and sweet. Say it like it is. It’s all lies, and we’ll prove it to ya’ right shortly. Pretendin’ to be asleep–indeed. I suggest we get on with it.

JUDGE STONE. (sighing) Bailiff Cuff, please have the witnesses stand and be sworn all at once. Saves time, you know.

BAILIFF CUFF. Yes Sir—Ma’am—Your Honor, Sir. (Like a preacher in a tent revival.) All the witnesses arise and repeat after me! Do you most solemnly swear! Upon all that is sacred and holy! To tell the truth! The whole truth! Nothing but the truth! So help you God and his heavenly host?

WITNESSES. (intimidated, in concert) I do.

JUDGE STONE. (whispering as the witnesses answer) Flapper. There’s no host here—just God.

FLAPPER. (obsequious) Right. Sorry, Your Honor. (preaching again) So help you God?

WITNESSES. (hesitating, in staggered response) I do.

FLAPPER. (like a rifle shot) You may be seated!

JUDGE STONE. (commanding, with apparent renewed interest) Call your first witness, Mr. Butcher.

[Check back tomorrow for Scene 2!]

Silenced

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I found myself the last person in the courtroom, still sitting at counsel table after a rogue jury delivered a $22 million verdict against my client in a $7 million dollar case.  How could this have happened?  It was so wrong.  In this the greatest legal system in the world, truth had not prevailed.  This moment of courtroom despair triggered the still poignant memory of when, 15 years earlier, another jury acquitted the man who had murdered his wife and three children.  I thought of their voices, silenced and unable to tell their story, to speak the truth, to persuade the jury.   I wrote this poem alone in the courtroom to honor their voices and their lives.  It was my 45th birthday.

(This poem relates to the blog post Chapter 28: Away with Murder also found on the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog.)

SILENCED

She lies, undressed,
on the shining steel table,
her voice mute as the metal,
white skin washed clean of red
blood that once ran warm.
Bloodless wounds tell her story
to the inquiring examiner. But
the story of the living spoke
louder than the tale of the dead,
and the jury acquitted her killer,
the man who once said “I do”
and slipped a gold band on her finger.

Her white flesh lies cold
on the steel, her black hair flowing
over the edge toward the floor,
hair that hides where
the hammer crushed her skull.
Her screams have fled
into walls, into paint and plaster.
Her sobs have dripped, drowning,
into shag, soaked
into plywood and joists.
They would tell her sad story
to any who would listen, but
the living spoke louder than the dead.