The "Judicial Campus", which is a pleasant name for a few courthouses and buildings that have all the asthetic appeal of a Soviet housing bloc, is situated just at the edge of downtown Marietta - the "Square".
At 0830, I pushed open both glass doors of Building D, like a gunslinger entering a saloon. I impressed nobody but myself.
I do not get along well with metal detectors. I cannot recall the last time I was able to walk through one without setting it off - my belt buckle, or the steel in my combat boots, which I was indeed wearing with my black suit. After a cursory search by a terminally bored 'guard', I was granted admission to the court.
Cobb County traffic court, like all traffic courts, is essentially an enormous money-making operation. You sit in a squalid courtroom which has zero decoration anywhere on it's bare, off-white walls, save for the judge's pedestal where he sits on high to dispense injustice. You may not stand in this courtroom - stay on your feet more than a handful of seconds, and the bailiff - not the uniformed guard we all imagine, but rather, a withered old crone with a nametag - bitches at you to sit down. You wonder where she expects you to sit, seeing that the room has close to a hundred people in it, and all benches are virtually shoulder-to-shoulder filled. Somehow, you manage.
In most jurisdictions across the entire known universe, when a traffic defendent's name is called, he or she will speak directly to the judge, who will ask the plea, and who may ask questions such as "Is there anything you'd like to tell me?" or "What exactly happened?" so that he can ignore the answer. Cobb County, however, sits atop some bizarre pan-dimensional barrier where common sense fails to function. Rather than talking to the judge, you speak to what is known as a 'solicitor'. This person acts as a prosecuting attorney should the need arise, but it rarely - if ever - does. So his primary role is to ask your plea, and inform you of your penalty.
Then you talk to the judge, who asks your plea, and informs you of your penalty. The judge's word is final. The solicitor has no real say, nor would he want to. But he's more than happy to waste taxpayer dollars by performing his useless function.
My name was called, and I spoke to the solicitor, and went through the agonizing process of answering prefab legal jargon-laden questions, such as "Do you understand that by pleading guilty you hereby and summarily dismiss and waive your rights as noted in section V, paragraph 3, lines iv-xii?" The solicitor has said this so many times before he can rattle it off in a staccato machine-gun style without stuttering, pausing, or thinking.
After enduring this painfully agonizing process, I went back to sit on the benches, which have specifically been designed to conform to the mirror-image of the human spine; that is to say, the exact opposite of comfortable. After a while - I'm not sure how long, as the entire courtroom is designed to give you no sense of time or even life outside the court - I was called to stand before the judge, who does no actual "judging" in the normal sense of the word. Rather, he tells you how much money you'll now pay the court (including a 25% "court surcharge"). If the judge were replaced with a computer that had a database of crime -> punishment, it is doubtful anyone would notice the difference.
I was charged 500 dollars plus a 125 dollar "surcharge" which is, in theory, for upkeep and overhead of running the court. In practice, however, the court has zero overhead running costs and is fully funded through taxation; the surcharge is therefore just another profit for them.
The judge also decided I won't drive for the next 120 days. Sitting from atop his monstrously ugly pedestal, clad in ridiculous judicial robes, he hands down this quick edict without thinking. "120 days. No driving. Next!"
No thought whatsoever is given to how this penalty has basically completely fucked the life of a citizen, over such a minor transgression as a lapse in insurance.
Upon further reflection, I realized something - there is indeed a point to such measures. The legislation and judges are well aware that very few, if any, citizens are going to abandon their cars for four months this way. To put it simply, it is virtually impossible to get around in this city without a car, and public transit is almost nonexistant. They know this, but moreover, they're counting on it, as a setup to nail you again, arrest you, and take even more of your money.
There are ways around this, though. I can go to the state DMV headquarters and get a 'to and from work' waiver of the suspension, which is exactly what it sounds like. These headquarters are located in Conyers, which is as far from Atlanta as you can get without leaving the state. It would make no sense, you see, to put such an office in the population center of the state.
I stayed by and watched them dispense justice a while. Over half the people who went before the judge that day were there for "expired tag" issues. This is not a ticket which requires a court appearance; you may pay the fine by mail or phone and get it over with, so the people there today were but a small percentage of the total number of people who had gotten tickets for expired tags just on that day. Not once did anyone stop to consider how ridiculous it was to have a law that turns this many otherwise fine citizens into criminals.
A girl of 18 was brought before the judge, and apparently was being charged with "possession of alcohol by a minor", which means she had been drinking underage. She had both her parents with her, as most teenagers in court do, and the judge asked the girl a question. The father started to answer, and the judge said something which shocked me, but did not surprise me (this is no contradiction). In his words, "I appreciate the concern of the family, sir, but legally speaking, she is an adult, so this has to come from her."
That's right. "Legally speaking, she is an adult," the judge said, not pausing to consider how absurd it was that he was claiming on one hand that this girl was an adult and fully responsible for her actions, yet on the other hand claiming she was too young and irresponsible to have a drink or two. I shook my head and left.
At this point I decided that while I was here, I may as well make another attempt at retrieving my attache case, which had been taken from me on July 6 2000 by a jackbooted thug, with no reason more than a highschool dropout's accusation. The last time I tried to retrieve my property from the police evidence lockup, I was informed that it was "still evidence", although it wasn't, and that "police computers don't talk to court computers". Welcome to the Information Age of the 21st century.
I wound my way through an inexplicably vast maze of labrynthian sub-basements which were dimly lit from 40-watt overhead bulbs every ten feet or so. I cannot imagine the mindset of someone who chooses to work at such a place: bare white walls, gray floor, utter silence, all the atmosphere of the gulag. To go to work every day in what is basically a dungeon.
This was a government building. You can tell by the reek of incompetance it exudes at fifty meters, and by the distinctive way government buildings are labelled and signed. All government buildings are either over-badged - "You will do this", "No talking", "No standing", "Line forms here", "No loitering", etc - or there are no signs whatesoever. This was one of the latter, and finding the clerk's office for the Superior Court was a task of insurmountably epic proportions.
I went to three seperate offices within the building, and two in another building across the street; each of these offices referred me to another office. After over a half hour of being shuffled from one moron to another, I finally arrived at a sort of do-it-yourself archive lookup: Enter your name, and whether it was a civil or criminal case, and a list of your past transgressions issues forth. There was mine: Threats of Terrorist Activity. All police reports, paperwork, documentation, court papers, and so forth were included, as well as the one document I needed - the final "no process" paper, signed by the District Attorney, that stated "Insufficient evidence to prove suspect's guilt". This is what I needed to show the clowns at evidence lockup, to prove that my property was no longer "evidence".
I printed this paper, and a woman behind the counter asked if I needed it stamped. The government loves to stamp things. I said yes, I needed it stamped, just to play along, and with obvious delight she stamped the paper and said, "This makes it official." She did not understand why I suddenly had trouble standing up due to laughter.
I then began the trek to the police headquarters, and once there, was treated to a sub-basement even more dismal than the first. To get to the evidence storage, you enter a side-door in an obscure corner of the building, and go through something similar to a rat maze, which finally terminates at a bare white wall with a window. I spoke to the aged crone behind the window, handed her my paperwork, and in twenty minutes or so, there it was, being handed to me through a sliding glass partition.
My silver attache case. The impetus for the "Briefcase Bomber" incident, covered with stickers that say EVIDENCE and COBB COUNTY POLICE DEPARTMENT.
Quickly, I dialed in the combination and snapped it open to discover what had been lying in there for the past two years. A copy of Gibson's Cryptonomicon and Burning Chrome. Two Volvo brochures and three bottle rockets. The title to my car. A copy of Smith's Atheism: The Case Against God. A small black box with a red light on top and wires trailing from the box to the lock. Everything seemed to be in place.
I then went to the bank - on my now-suspended license, mind you - to withdraw obscene amounts of cash to pay the idiot court clerk, as my "punishment". Doubtless this money will be funneled into something eminately useful, like catered dinners for the county commissioners.
The clerk took my $625 and told me to "have a nice day".
I gave her the finger, raised high like the Liberty Torch, and left.
And while I drove off, this is what I said: Fuck the police.