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Since October 2018, we’ve worked on getting a new roof, seeking compensation for a driveway that was seriously damaged in the effort, and finally filing for a judgment to get money back that we’d spent to repair the driveway. My husband took on most of the tedious work to collect evidence, file the case, and appear at mediation. He used the best of his engineering skills and charm to do it.
But that is not the most fascinating part of this story….
On our court date, we arrived an hour early at the courthouse where the county held small claims suits. (We both feel that unless you’re early, you’re late.) Only two other people were sitting in the courtroom; we learned they were there for the case that was in progress.
At the plaintiff’s dais was a large black woman in leopard-like pants and purple hair. She was talking about her car and how she had been ripped off by an auto repair business. It didn’t take long to realize that her story had an abundance of holes in it: how she had driven a car that wouldn’t go into reverse—from the repair facility; how she was certain that they had stolen the air conditioner from her car, as well as stolen the reverse gear from her transmission; how she had spent $600 for repairs which appeared to have been completed (although she claimed they had used old parts).
The most amazing part of this story was the judge. I have never seen a man so patient with a person who was barely coherent, mostly confused and … well, eccentric. Her male cousin was there to testify for her, but couldn’t remember some key events; the woman explained to the judge that the man had undergone brain surgery.
Eventually, the judge coached her through her part of the process. There were two men from the automotive repair shop, one who was the manager of the facility and one of the owners.
The manager went first; he was having difficulty figuring out which facts to offer to counter her testimony. When the owner finally stepped up, he shared that he had called her (as he had on many occasions), and she had him speak to a Mr. F- who was with her. Mr. F- explained to the shop owner that he was going to pay $417 toward the balance of her bill (which had not yet been paid) and the shop owner heard his customer protest in the background, insisting he should ask for $500 instead.
I think that was the last straw for the judge.
He calmly wrapped things up and ruled against her claim to get her $600 back.
I’ve left a lot of details out of this story, but they aren’t important here.
What is important is that my husband went next before the judge with two men (who had entered and sat down behind us during the previous case) who, taking turns, were representing the companies who had done the work and damage. The judge was a delight.
He appreciated the 20 pages of evidence (including photos) that my husband had included. The judge inserted brief stories about the work he had recently completed with pavers, how you could smash up old pavers and use them as a base for other work, and it was clear he knew something about roofing and driveway pavers. Although the two men didn’t agree with the conclusion my husband drew about the evidence, the judge did and explained his reasons.
For the entire 20 minutes, everyone acted respectfully and calmly. Before he ruled, though, he wanted all of them to know how grateful he was that they were orderly, polite to each other, that they listened to each other and to him, and that they were coherent (clearly alluding to the difficulty of the previous client). When one of the men said he was very impressed with how the judge had handled the previous client, the judge shook his head and said, “I could only have done it with the help from above.”
And he meant it.
The saddest part of this story was the woman in the first case. It was difficult to know whether she was mentally ill, confused, or deluded. But never once did the judge raise his voice. I’ve tried to imagine the variety of people that he must see every day, with their incoherence, unfair demands, or lack of evidence or witnesses. And yet he stayed engaged, polite, and present, treating her respectfully. He has been a judge for over 20 years.
I have a new respect for at least one member of the judicial system.
May the judge continue to receive strength from his faith.Published in