Scenes From the Courts

     Some highlights from yet another surreal week.
     The Long Beach Courthouse: I put everything from my pockets into the box for the x-ray machine (or whatever that monstrosity is) and stepped through the metal detector while holding a copy of “California Thoroughbred” in front of me.
     There were no beeps, no alarms, no metal detected.
     It didn’t matter — the guard with the scanner wand eyed me, stepped forward immediately, and scanned the magazine.
     He seemed slightly surprised when I laughed at him.
     Next stop: the file room where I wait in line about 15 minutes (a short wait because I know what time of day to arrive). It’s my turn next and I move forward only to notice that the lone clerk at the only window (of four) open has vanished. I stop halfway to the window.
     Suddenly behind me I notice a mustachioed well-fed man in a grey suit, holding an accordion file, barge in front of the line, making a beeline for the same window. He stops too when he realizes there is no one there.
     I’m used to strange behavior in courthouses but the woman, pushing a toddler in a stroller, who was behind me in line was not pleased. She immediately pointed out that the rest of us had been waiting in line.
     You can guess what came next. The guy in the suit informed her that he was a lawyer and Window 3 – the only one open for anyone to approach – was the lawyers’ window so he could walk right up to it.
     Yes, but we’ve been waiting all this time, the mother protested.
     “That’s how it works,” Mr. Suit insisted, not budging. He was a lawyer and he had a hearing at 1:30.
     I checked the clock. It was 12:30.
     They went on like that for a while and the mother, realizing she wasn’t going to get anywhere, settled for scolding him for not warning everyone in advance that he was a lawyer and was going to cut in line.
     We stood in awkward silence. I thought about pulling out my bar card to thwart the Suit’s advance, but I figured the image of lawyers had already taken a beating in the room and I didn’t want to be stoned.
     The lone clerk finally returned to the window and Suit stepped forward, plunking his file on the counter and saying something about an ex parte hearing. The clerk peered up at him and quietly informed him that he’d come to the wrong room.
     Suit quickly stalked away without a glance at the mother. I enjoyed some snickering.
     The Van Nuys Courthouse. Actually, the Van Nuys courthouse is always surreal so this was a pretty normal visit.
     It begins with the traditional walk through the metal detector. What distinguishes the door security at Van Nuys from the door security at the rest of the courthouses in Los Angeles County is volume. There are eight guards at the sole ground floor entrance.
     Most of them seem to be just standing or sitting there.
     If the Van Nuys courthouse is ever besieged by a horde of orcs, the defense is in place.
     It takes a half hour for me to get copies of six pages from a file that I had to order the day before. It’s one of my fastest trips to Van Nuys ever.
     The Glendale Courthouse. The Glendale courthouse, for some reason, has a rather odd relationship with the Burbank courthouse. For example, they share a letter.
     There are about a dozen courts spread throughout Los Angeles County and you can tell which one of them a case has been filed in by the letter at the beginning of the case number (which should be called the case letter/number since there are letters in it).
     But despite the fact that there are a good bit more than a dozen English letters, Burbank and Glendale share the same letter: E. (I should note here that the selection of letters for courthouses bears absolutely no relation to the names or locations of said courthouses.)
     The only reason I can imagine for this is that whoever assigned the letters never learned the entire alphabet.
     So how can you tell the difference between a Burbank case and a Glendale case?
     If the penultimate number is odd, it’s Glendale. If it’s even, it’s Burbank.
     And now another strange thing has happened.
     For a long time, in order to get something copied in Burbank you had to fill out and sign a form with your name, address, phone number, case name and number, type of document, and number of pages to be copied.
     I have no idea why. This was not true in Glendale (or most, but not all, of the other L. A. courts).
     Recently, though, Burbank gave up on the forms. Maybe they ran out of paper.
     And now I discover that Glendale now requires the forms.
     It occurs to me as I fill it out that I could put down my name as Peter Pan, living at 3200 Nevernever Drive, and no one would notice or care.
     I’ll probably do that next time.

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