Traffic court, that is.
Keith, whose more pessimistic nature complements my sometimes over-optimistic self, likes to say "No good deed goes unpunished." I usually wave off those kinds of remarks, but this time he was right, as I realized last month when I received the subpoena from the county district court. That auto accident I saw on my way to work the day before Thanksgiving? Well, the state of Maryland decided to charge the driver of the pick-up truck with "failure to control veh. speed on hwy. to avoid collision" - and, instead of paying her fine and taking her lumps like the very crummy and very guilty driver that she is, the young woman decided to contest the ticket. Which meant that I, as the official witness of record (aka "hapless sap"), had to take half a day off work and pay $9 for parking so that I could tell the judge, after waiting two hours in traffic court for the case to come up, what any mo-ron could tell by looking at the front-end of the pick-up and the rear-end of the sedan: that the driver of the pick-up was guilty, guilty, guilty.
She was looking at a $120 fine and points on her driving record. Reducing or avoiding "points" is the reason most people even bother with traffic court instead of just paying their ticket. I don't know how many points she was facing, but she had told me she was in an accident the week before the one I saw, so maybe it would have been enough to totally wreck her insurance premiums for a long time to come.
Maybe she thought that it would go easier on her if she pleaded not guilty, but the instructions I received stated that "Under Maryland law, the defendant may admit guilt prior to trial by paying the established fine. The defendant may also admit guilt and request a hearing for the sole purpose of seeking leniency. In either instance, your appearance would not be required." Maybe she thought the ticketing officer would fail to make an appearance, which would produce an automatic "not guilty," but - helloooo - there was a witness, namely me, who was compelled by subpoena to make an appearance.
Just to make it truly weird, I was already sitting in the courtroom when she and her father showed up and sat immediately in front of me. I don't think she realized that they had done this until she sort of turned sideways and saw me - then she whispered to her dad. Lots of whispering. In fact, she was doing so much whispering that they both failed to hear when the judged called her name. He called her name twice, and when she failed to speak up, he noted her as a "no show." I tried to get her attention, but she ignored me. As soon as she was marked for not showing, I could have left, but I was afraid that I might be called back for a second court date and that would just be too much. I was already pissed about the half day and paying for parking, so I decided to stick it out and see what she and her father were up to. Court proceedings were too brisk and too formal for me to do anything while other cases were being heard, so I waited. And there was the teensiest bit of worry that perhaps she wasn't who I thought she was, so I resisted the temptation to point her out to the judge while exclaiming, "There she is, there's your 'no show.' Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!'"
Near the close of the session, she went up to the bailiff and whispered something like "Oh, was my name ever called?" - at which point he got her case put back on the docket. When asked, she told the judge that she was not guilty, irking me no end because I then had to get sworn in, state my full name and address to the whole courtroom, and tell the judge what happened. Then she had to get sworn in and tell him that what I had said was correct, but that she was hoping for leniency because "traffic was really bad that morning."
The judge found her guilty, but took pity by giving her "PBJ" which does not mean what one might at first think when one has skipped lunch in order to make it to court in time to sit for a couple of hours listening to a line-up of people trying to beat the rap on their speeding tickets and fender benders. PBJ means "Probation Before Judgment" which means, in this case: no points. He also reduced the fine to $35 plus $25.50 in court costs and ordered her to take a remedial driver's course offered by the state MVA. As it was, the only reason she was found guilty was because of my testimony - the ticketing officer had left when she was pronounced a no-show.
We had already learned that insurance was taking care of the wrecked sedan. But what about my parking? What about screwing up my afternoon? There was no point in my asking. (Grumble, grumble. Whine, whine.) I resisted the urge to reward myself with a detour to the yarn shop, but instead came home and spent some time with the sweet little donkeys. They never get called into traffic court.