MONDAY MORNING, I sat nervously as I rode in a worn booster seat in the back of Judge Jones car as she drove us towards the courthouse. I reflected on how lucky I seemed to have gotten! That weekend I had learned that she and her husband were truly a sweet couple. He had retired as a chief engineer from an aerospace company just last year, and now spent his time tinkering in the garage, and tending to the large yard around their house. She was a total legal nerd, and I had literally gasped aloud when she had shown me her library Saturday evening - it was the equal of most law schools!
That had led to some interesting legal debates that I had absolutely loved to hear her opinion on. Truthfully this short pseudo-clerkship was a dream come true for me as a law student!
“When we get to the courthouse, I’ll take you to get your credentials. This morning I’ll introduce you to my staff and a few other people around here, then there are those three hearings that I told you about yesterday in the afternoon. I’d like for you to sit in next to the court reporter and make your own notes on the proceedings. I’ll have you work on a number of things through your internship, but I think it’s invaluable that you get a good grasp of how the appellate level really works. Things never go exactly according to your classes,” she laughed.
I nodded at that, “I’m really looking forward to it!”
We pulled up to a security gate where a guard looked at Judge Jones and was about to motion her through before seeing me. “Take your kid to work day, Judge Jones?”
“No, this is my intern this summer. I’ll be taking him to the security desk to get his credentials.”
“Fair enough, go on in.”
She drove through a couple turns and parked in a parking space that had her name on a sign. ‘Judge Ruth Jones, Chief Justice 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.’
‘Must be nice to have your own parking space…’ I couldn’t help but think in my head.
She noticed my look, “It was not easy getting to this job, the little perks are really nice though!” She laughed, and I joined in.
I fell in beside her as she walked to an elevator and soon found myself in a ground level hallway where we stepped through a metal detector with a guard, and then continued to navigate through a maze of corridors that led to a security office. “Good morning Judge Jones, what can we do for you today?” A polite older man with a darker skin complexion spoke to her.
“Good morning to you too Officer Branch! I need to get my intern, Mr. Sylvester, all credentialed for the courthouse.”
He looked down at me and I was relieved to see a genuine smile, rather than another Big like the apartment manager. “Certainly, Judge Jones! May I please see your ID sir?”
“Hi,” I said politely, “Thanks for helping me out with this.” I pulled out my wallet and handed him my driver’s license. He sat there for a moment typing on a screen before saying, “You’re from Ames, huh? Don’t see many people from that way here.”
“I have one more year left in law school at Harlan. It’s home back there, but I like New Haven a lot better.”
“The State of Hartford is definitely a nicer place for shorter people,” he nodded. I figured he’d never had to deal with that since he looked to be eleven feet tall. As if he could read my mind he said, “I’m tall, but my older sister wasn’t – she’s a bit shorter than you. She ended up moving out that way with her husband… a year later she was the baby, complete with a new mommy. Took us years to find a way to get her back safely to here.”
My eyes shot up at that, “Is…”
“She’s fine, not a piece of padding in sight, except on the genuine grandbabies!”
I smiled, “That’s good!”
“The system shows we’ve already completed the background check on you, so if you can just stand over here, I’ll get your picture for your ID.”
I stood in front of a blue backdrop and smiled as best I could as he took the photo. “That’ll be a nice photo actually…” he said with a smile. I stood there before he handed me a tablet, “Please sign where it tells you to.”
I signed my life away effectively with federal laws if I violated rules. It was a number of signatures and initials before I finished and handed it back to him over the counter. He traded me for an ID badge with a clip on it. “Here you go Mr. Sylvester. Work hard for Judge Jones, and she’ll do good for you. She’s the best we have here!”
I smiled at him, “I plan to, thanks for your help!”
As we walked away, she said, “You’ll do well with me.”
“I’d already had a good chance to judge your character this weekend, but I always find the true nature of people who work with me by how they treat people like Officer Branch there.”
“What do you mean?”
“You treated him with respect, and were pleasant to him as he did his job. Many interns and clerks I’ve brought in to him have disdainfully acted as if he was beneath them when he took care of the formalities.”
She stopped at the elevators and looked down at me, “The best lawyers and judges I know treat everyone like they’re the same as themselves. It’s easy in the law profession to feel like you are better than everyone else in the world. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you are no different than that officer, and you will go far.”
The elevator arrived, and we rode upstairs to her office on the sixth floor while I pondered what she said.
JUDGE JONES INTRODUCED me to her staff, some of the court staff, some bailiffs that worked around her courtroom, and showed me around to the important places on her office floor like the break room, copy room, and bathrooms. She set me up at a large desk in the anteroom to her chambers and handed me three stacks of files that pertained to the three cases she was going to hear arguments about today.
“I know you don’t have nearly enough time to fully brief yourself, but see what you can get through in the next two hours. We’ll get a bite to eat, and then it’ll be time for the first hearing.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” I said with a smile.
I opened the first case and saw it was Robertson vs. United States of Acirema. A man had killed another man and had argued it was self-defense, but the jury had ruled otherwise. The attorneys for the case were making a technicality argument that some of the evidence that shouldn’t have been presented. Reading through the Appellant’s briefs, and the State’s briefs, I honestly didn’t think there was anything of value to the argument, other than maybe making the man feel better with an appeal being made on his behalf.
I saw the second case was Kounze vs. United States of Acirema. Their appeal alleged prosecutorial misconduct was at work during the trial of a man convicted of burning down a building and killing three people inside. At question was a video recording of the man doing what he was accused of that was presented, but not shared with the defense in advance of its presentation at the trial as part of the discovery phase. That one was probably bound to be retried I figured from looking at it since that was a pretty big oversight. There was no doubt in my mind though that the man was guilty…
The final case of the afternoon was Reinhardt and Dane vs. Tully (Dane). My eyes went wide as I read the briefs. Somehow a Little had managed to escape out of Ames and made it to New Haven. Her ‘mommy’ had gotten desperate for her baby’s return, and hired a bounty hunter to find her. The woman had managed to live on her own for three years, was now married, and had two kids of her own, when the bounty hunter caught up to her. When he attempted to reclaim her to take her back to her mommy, the police officers of New Haven had stopped him, and allowed her to go home since it was clear she was a free Little right then. They took him into custody and charged him initially with attempted kidnapping. After a few days they established that Tully was a runaway Little, and she had been collected by Little Protective Services to be cared for until her status could be determined. At question was whether they could legally deny Reinhardt the right to take Mrs. Tully back to Ames and interfere in her return.
I squirmed at that, knowing that technically the Constitution said that she had to be returned to her rightful guardian of Mrs. Dane. From what I could see, her only hope was that it was just Judge Jones hearing this case, and not the full Appellate Court. Maybe there was some loophole I didn’t know about, but I certainly couldn’t think of one right then. Because of the nature of the case, it was automatically being kicked up to the 3rd Circuit Court to decide since it involved a question of multiple state jurisdictions of Hartford and Ames.
I read both briefs as quickly as I could in all of the cases, and tried to memorize as many of the facts and arguments being presented in writing as I could. When Judge Jones reappeared, she said, “Ready to get a bite to eat?”
“Sounds good!” I said with a smile and organized my piles again quickly before following her down the elevator. We walked across the street and down the block to a small deli where she insisted on paying for my meal.
“So, what do you think so far of the briefs?” She asked me after making sure no one was nearby to listen.
“Well, the first case seems like a non-starter to me. They’re not really presenting any real procedural arguments in writing at least? Seems more like an attempt to make a client pay more legal fees honestly.”
“I’m curious to see if the attorney has anything more that he didn’t have in the briefs, but I would agree with your estimation of the case in writing that the arguments are slim.”
“The second case honestly looks like a valid concern on the face of things. The defendant was clearly guilty from that evidence, but discovery means the defense should have had access to all of the evidence, including that video. Procedurally I think the prosecution has a lot to explain.”
She didn’t give me a clear answer, “That one will be interesting to hear the arguments. I think the guilt of the defendant is clear, but the rights of the defendant are important to the foundation of our judicial system. Would he have been convicted without that evidence? Should be interesting to hear both sides.” She smiled, “And the last case.”
I felt my stomach churn, “The law is neither moral, or immoral… it’s the law.” I sighed, quoting a professor while debating about saying what I thought, “I think it’s abhorrent that Mrs. Tully would be forced to leave her children and go back to Ames to be babied by her fake mommy for the rest of her life. Her two kids would get to stay with the father according to the briefs, but never have their mother around as they grow up. I personally think the fact that she’s made a life for herself, and has a family of her own, shows that Maturosis is a lie of culture designed to enslave Littles like her.” I sighed, “That being said the case law is clear that legally she should have to be returned to Ames. She could theoretically appeal there for a change in standing, but that won’t go anywhere within their courts. The 6th Circuit and all of the District Courts will agree that she had been adopted, and without a declaration of emancipation, she’s still her ‘baby.’”
I blushed, knowing I had spoken a bit more passionately about this matter than may have been healthy.
She smiled at me though, “You understand the law quite well Cameron. One of the worst things about being a judge is that sometimes there are immoral laws you must uphold. You missed that the laws of New Haven are also quite strict on the procedures for being emancipated – Mrs. Tully seemingly has met all of those criteria it would seem. Not having a willing mother to release her though means that’s an uphill battle.”
“I hate the system on that one,” I told her honestly.
She looked at the time and said, “I too hate the system sometimes, let’s go get to court.”
I walked with her back to the courthouse and we found one of her long-term clerks, Kathy Stanford, waiting at her office. After introductions and some small talk, Judge Jones said, “Kathy, can you go ahead and head to the courtroom and show Cameron where he can set up next to you and the reporter?”
“Yes, Your Honor.” To her before smiling down at me, “Ready for the first day?”
I smiled up at the tall eleven foot tall Big, “Absolutely!”
She showed me to a large table with chairs set next to the court reporter. Someone had thoughtfully placed a thick pillow on one of the chairs for me. I clambered up and watched people move about the room for a few minutes before I heard, “All Rise!” as Judge Jones walked into the room, “Hear Ye, Hear Ye, Hear Ye, The Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit Court is now open according to law.”
As I stood, I reflected on how I was always a bit bemused by how far our traditions went back with courts like this. Being present here was like a dream come true to me! “Thank you, you may be seated,” Judge Jones said to everyone once she sat down.
The bailiff stated, “The first case on today’s docket is Case number 5348203 Robertson vs. United States of Acirema. Mr. Tyrone Ashton.”
I watched as the man stepped to the large lectern. Atop the lectern I knew full well about the three lights that represented his time and ability to make his case. A preset guideline of fifteen minutes had been set for both sides of arguments. When he was allowed to speak a green light would be lit. There was a two-minute warning that the amber in the middle represented, and when the red light showed at the end he would be done unless Judge Jones asked him questions or gave him additional time to speak.
“Thank you and may it please the court, I am Tyrone Slade representing Chris Robertson…” He presented an argument that I was almost surprised to even see him keep a straight face for.
I was still getting to know Judge Jones, so I watched her carefully, while also making notes about his case for appeal. Her face was set in a completely emotionless stare as she watched the attorney speak. The intensity of her eyes really was very intimidating, and I’m certain the counsel had to be feeling that stare burning into him. At the end of his time, she didn’t ask any questions of him, and the DA for the case came and had his own fifteen minutes.
I was curious to see how she would make her ruling known. From what I had studied there was a lot of wiggle room for those decisions to be announced. Normally this was something that would be published on a website after the judge could render a written decision. In some cases, they might go ahead and state their opinion from the bench.
“Thank you both for your arguments. Normally I would tell you an opinion will be written and published by my office in about seven days, but I do not wish to waste additional time with this case. Mr. Ashton, I see no merit at all in the Appeal you have filed before this court. The motion is denied with prejudice, and I would highly suggest that if you come before this bench in the future, you have a more meaningful and substantial reason within the law to do so.”
With a strike of her gavel the case was at a close. Next to me Kathy said, “She was really annoyed at that one…”
“I kind of guessed. When I read the briefs it sounded like a waste of time.”
During the next case she asked a lot more questions of both the defense attorney and the prosecutor. It was clear to me that there was a real concern that the discovery of evidence wasn’t shared with the defendant. Some questions about if the evidence wasn’t there, would they still have convicted him? In the end she stated that her opinion in the case would be rendered in seven to ten days. “Court is in recess for thirty minutes before the next case.”
“Good time to hit the restroom,” Kathy said to me, “I have a feeling this next case is going to go on longer.”
“Because… well, did you read the briefs?” She asked as she motioned with her head to move towards a hallway behind the courtroom. She led me towards one of the bathrooms that was meant for court staff, not the lawyers or general public.
“I did… Unfortunately, isn’t the law very clear?”
“It is, which is why I think Judge Jones is going to figure out where she does have some wiggle room. I’ve been clerking for her now for nine months, and her biggest pet peeve is when families are separated for no good reason.”
I nodded at that, “I agree with her there…”
I went inside the men’s, while she went in the women’s. I was back out pretty quickly, but decided to be polite and wait for her. I noticed a few looks from some Bigs that were walking around, but thanks to New Haven’s laws I knew I was pretty much as safe as anyone could be as a Betweener. Littles might need to still take more precautions with some of those looks though!
When she reappeared, we walked back to the courtroom and I talked with her about her schooling and past. She was doing a typical clerkship after finishing law school that was scheduled to last two years. When she finished, she planned on finding a firm somewhere to join up with, but for now she felt like learning everything she could about the Appellate Court was in her future client’s best interests.
I nodded, as that was kind of where I was leaning. The idea of finishing school and coming back for a longer, more proper, clerkship did seem appealing.
By the end of the recess, a new set of lawyers were set up at the two opposing counsel tables. I felt bile in my throat as another woman with an LPS badge was holding a tightly swaddled woman on her lap. A large locking pacifier was clearly hurting her from the winces of pain I could see, and through the blanket I thought I could see signs of her having further restraints on her ankles and hands. Her face looked to be covered in sweat from being overheated from the tight blanket. ‘And she’s supposed to be the one protecting Littles…’
The cry of All-Rise was repeated, and Judge Jones reappeared.
“The final case on today’s docket is Case number 534359342 Reinhardt and Dane vs. Tully(Dane).”
Before the bounty hunters’ lawyer could even begin to make his case, Judge Jones stated, “Ma’am, who are you, and why is Mrs. Tully being so aggressively restrained?”