Thursday, August 4, 2011

Now Appearing at Billings Municipal Court on Behalf of my Dog

Tuesday morning I got up, went to work, then went to court on behalf of my dog. I selected a tasteful ensemble, a very non-Lindsey-Lohan-esque outfit, but soon realized I could have just worn my sweats, fanny pack, and Crocs like everyone else who was to appear that day did. Really, it wasn't even necessary to have showered, as most of the others exhibited.

I followed the throngs of people into the courtroom (yes, that's right; and, no, I am not exaggerating), checked in with an officer at the door - which means they pull your paperwork and give you an assigned seat next to someone who thinks personal hygiene is an option - and sat down with nothing to do but observe one of the most difficult parts of a human being's life: being faced with what they've done and their subsequent punishment. There is no sadder place to spend a morning than the Municipal Court, and as I sat there listening, feeling more and more depressed, I realized that my life could be so much harder.

I had never been to court before so I found out right off the bat that when your citation says 9am, that doesn't mean your specific case is going to be heard at 9am; that just means their doors open then and I'm free to stand in line. So I sat there listening to the tales of the 20-or-so people in front me of before calling my name and moving me to a different courtroom. There, I was second in line behind a guy younger than myself charged with assault. The guy before him was charged with assault too. The judge decided to entertain the crowd by reading from the police report that this man had struck a woman open handed. The judge continued, "Apparently, she was pregnant, and you said, 'Well, you deserve it, you dumb bitch,' then slapped her across the face." We couldn't help it, the audience and I started to chuckle. He plead Not Guilty and I left before things continued.

When it was my turn to be called, I walked up to the podium, grateful I was no longer in the large courtroom where I'd be required to speak into a microphone; in this courtroom, everyone used inside voices (something I learned about on Yo Gabba Gabba this morning). Even still, I'm pretty sure the other delinquents could hear me since they chuckled when the judge said to me, "You are charged with possession of a potentially dangerous animal, how do you plead?" and I said guilty and was then required to tell her what happened (I left out the parts where Louis did the maiming inside and in front of children since it didn't make it's way on to the citation).

The judge was a hard-ass to the kid in front of me charged with assault who couldn't have been more than 20-years old, but she softened considerably when she was speaking with me. She spoke in low tones and looked at me with sympathetic eyes as she told me that if there is a second offense, I'll be charged with possession of a dangerous animal and he'll have to be put down. After she read my current (and only, God willing) charges, she read the corresponding sentence: 6 months jail, and a fine plus surcharge. Ultimately, she fined me $250 ($270 with the surcharge) that I have to pay in $50 increments starting September 2nd. On September 1st, I will have to attend a restitution hearing to determine how much I will need to fork over to the neighbors for whatever they decide to tack on (vet bills, cremation/burial, replacement of cat, carpet cleaning, fence repair etc.). In addition, Louis is required to undergo a behavioral evaluation by a certified dog trainer appointed by the court - Bark Busters - and I am to follow their recommendations. Oh, and I don't have to go to jail.

What I could only guess was an intern lead me out of the courtroom to the Clerk's Office/payment window. Ahead of me was one of the unfortunate who is facing legal trouble without unemployment. Aside from the recently released from incarceration professional painter ahead of me, everyone else was unemployed. A young girl and her mother stood directly in front of me, the two people I found the least sympathy for. The mother said something random to me that triggered a semi-conversation in which we swapped stories of what we were in for. Apparently, her very Valley Girl daughter came home from school and borrowed her parent's registration-less vehicle. After pleading guilty and finding herself at the payment window, the mother decided it was appropriate to tell the Clerk, "I don't really think us pleading guilty was fair. I mean, it wasn't her fault, it was ours." She repeated this a few times before the city government employee - as nice as they usually are - told her, "This conversation with me you're having right now, you should have had it with the judge." She was smart enough then to just shut up and pay the $145 fine for her daughter.

I stepped up to the window, told him my name, then stood there motionless. Perhaps that is why the judge and Clerk were so pleasant with me and why I managed to get the Clerk to crack a smile behind his scowl; I'm sure I'm one of the few who just stands there quiet and motionless, just wanting everything to be over. The gentleman behind me bitched on the phone about the "stupid bitch Pro Tem" judge; I thought she was pretty nice. After receiving my payment plan and the information for Bark Busters, I raced to my car, thankful Louis could live to tell the tale and it wouldn't empty my bank account.

I stopped by Jacob's work to tell him how everything went. As we parted ways, he said, "Everyone inside will breath a sigh of relief that Louis doesn't have to be put down. Pat was really worried about that and about how you might take it." I returned to my own work to everyone wanting to know how it went and what happened. If nothing else, this ordeal has taught me how loved, appreciated, and cared for we are - even the furry ones - and that we have an extended array of family and friends that are genuine, nice, and caring. They have an actual interest in what is going on in our lives - as we do with theirs. As an adult, I am learning what friendships really encompass. But I digress....

We haven't made the appointment with Bark Busters yet; that should be an experience..... :-/