I wasn’t going to post anything else, probably until after the holiday, but I couldn’t resist posting this. The episode caused great hilarity in the office…then the writing went into full flow.
This happened a mere 24 hours ago…
I didn’t expect the full black cap routine; after all it was only the local small claims court….and it wasn’t even me that had been summoned!
A friend of mine with a small home improvement business had received a summons taken out by an unhappy client. Unfortunately (for me that is) my friend and his wife would be in New York celebrating their Silver Wedding on the day of the case and so he needed…a “patsy” I believe is the vernacular term, to attend in his place. At the time I didn’t appreciate that this also meant “condemned” in his place.
Why was I there? Oh, I was only there to apologise to the court for my friend’s untimely absence and to see if the judge would postpone the case to a later date.
I checked my bag. Gown…lots of big heavy books and yes…the white curly wig. That should do the trick. I had taken final instructions from my client and was ready to counter whatever spurious claims the prosecution could conjure up.
Was I treating this too seriously? I don’t think so!
In reality I was quaking outside Court No 4, feeling well out of my comfort zone.
The main reason I’d been asked to turn up was that I knew the circumstances of the case pretty well. After all it was me who had written the response letter to his former clients on his behalf and who had prepared the statement for the court as his (last line of) defence should the judge decide to press ahead in his absence. Years of dealing with contractors and conditions of contract had put me in the somewhat unenviable position of knowing a lot…but not necessarily the “lot” that you might need to know. If I so much as hinted that I knew a bit about contract law, or used terminology that might be construed by the judge as being legal sounding…then we were up s**t creek in a barbed wire canoe without a paddle! The only thing a judge is liable to hate more than a rogue trader is a wanabe barrister.
The small claims court had been described to me as two parties sitting around a table with a “judge” who would ask both parties suitably penetrating questions then give his verdict. I was taken aback to find myself sitting behind a glass screen at the back of a decent sized courtroom with about a dozen other various pursuers and defenders staring through the glass at the Clerk of the Court and 14 barristers, each with several kilos of heaped document folders. We sat sweaty palmed for over half an hour while the clerk of the court discussed the day’s business with them.
At last the door at the other end of the room opened and a gowned and wigged demon from the darkest pits of Hell swept into the court to the insistence of an elderly court usher that we should all get off our guilty backsides and stand respectfully if we knew what was good for us!
Thin and gaunt and a face devoid of the merest spark of humanity, the Sheriff perched behind the clerk of the court gazing malevolently over the massed hordes of black gowned leeches who had the misfortune to be still fumbling with their disorganised case notes.
My friend’s case was first up. The ageing usher stomped up the court to fetch both me and the pursuers, Mr and Mrs Kitchen. It was fairly obvious that Mr and Mrs Kitchen hadn’t expected this full court assembly any more than I had. Hesitantly the three of us shuffled down the left hand passageway towards the front of the court to be stopped by an official hand before we reached the Sheriff. No seat, no desk, no witness stand. We stood in the passageway uncomfortably exposed in a raggedy line while the judge scoured the papers for the case.
It was pathetically medieval and unworthy of modern day society. The King on his throne, the lackeys and sycophants watching with undisguised disinterest and the unfortunate peasants lined up in front with their less than worthy petition. No wonder people end up in contempt of court when this is how they are treated. I suspect having contempt for the court is a fairly acceptable standpoint for any right minded individual. It didn’t take a PhD to work out this charade was an institutionalised ritual of humiliation and intimidation designed to deter, in this case, small claims.
I very quickly learned that utterances consisting of more than one syllable were frowned upon, as my opening responses sailed merrily past his Lordship’s attempt to interrupt me in full flow. I thought…concentrate…must do better. Remember, one syllable.
Unfortunately my name has three syllables, so when he pointedly asked who the hell I was, I immediately incurred his Lordship’s considerable ire for the second time.
I could tell it wasn’t going well and my terrified brain was now contemplating a spartan, grey-celled, life with my new best buddy…Big Wullie…and his favourite bar of prison issue soap.
Then I understood. All he wanted to hear was the word “yes”. A big juicy, emphatic “YES!”. Any other word had no meaning in his world and was therefore an anathema. Any other word would be surgically stuck from the proceedings and those uttering said other word likewise. Maybe this would be easier than I had thought…all I had to do was say “YES!”.
Now that His Lorship had ascertained I was not the defendant, but something much worse, he reckoned it was a good time to pile on the pressure. Knowing full well that my “friend’s” letter to the court had introduced me simply as “the person who was to explain his absence to the court” His Lordship decided to turn the screw.
“Mr Brown, are you here to represent Mr X?”
Bollocks…deep doo-doo time. That was stretching the interpretation of the letter a wee bit. Given a lack of options on the monosyllable front there wasn’t much else I could do.
He nearly smiled. It was a non-smile that said “Gotcha!”
“Mr Brown, does MrX intend to provide a defence?”
I consulted my data-bank of allowable monosyllables. It was fairly limited.
He sat back, enquiring eyebrow raised, waiting for me to demonstrate how I was to achieve this rather unlikely feat. Droplets of perspiration were forming on my over-stressed brow and were cascading down my shirt front. As soon as I opened my mouth I would break the strict monosyllabic code. I noticed him frown in anticipation as I took in a rather large gulp of pre-utterance air.
“I have brought a written statement for the court from MrX in response to the pursuers statement included with the summons” I hurriedly squeaked, the monosyllabic code now well and truly shattered. Big Wullie beckoned. The elderly court usher grinned smugly and stuck out a hand.
“Mr Brown, have Mr and Mrs Kitchen seen this statement?”
The twisted b*****d knew what the answer would be before he asked. The “never to be uttered” negative monosyllable beckoned…as did an increasingly happy looking Big Wullie.
“no” I mumbled.
“Give a copy of the statement to the pursuers Mr Brown.”
I was, by now, on the floor. Not that I particularly wanted to be there, but having no table in front of me I was having to wrestle the copies of the statement from my folder with the floor being the only available free work space. I could feel His Honour’s disapproval boring through the top of my head…or it would have been if I hadn’t disappeared totally from sight, crouching behind the temporary security of the Clerk of the Court’s table. I’d settle for “Life” by this time as, from my under-desk viewpoint, I could just make out his right hand inch towards his all too convenient black cap. I looked up to find the pursuers smiling down reassuringly…at least they were on my side. They knew they’d be next and would be seeking moral support from any available source. They needed to make friends…fast!
There had never been any intention to “hear” the case. He hadn’t read the papers before today and as soon as he realised there was to be a defence comprising my four pages of highly detailed drivel he decided he was having none of that sort nonsense in his court. By this time Mr and Mrs Kitchen and I were all holding hands very tightly wondering what our black cloaked tormentor would demand of us next.
First came the carrot.
“Hmm…do you think a settlement could be reached out of court?” he asked a suitably quaking Mr and Mrs Kitchen.
Having just seen what happened to code breaking deviants they fully appreciated His Lordships’ requirements.
“YES!” they piped.
“And you Mr. Brown, do you think MrX will be able to reach a settlement?”
He studied me with a baleful eye. Was it a trick question? Could I agree to this on my “client’s” behalf without taking further instructions? Of course I bloody could! It was his bloody fault I was here in the first bloody place. He was lording it in bloody Gordon Ramsay’s in New York and I was facing this bloody Demon of skyscraper proportions.
“YES!” I bawled cheerfully.
Then came the stick.
“I will set a further hearing for 28 days hence. If you have not reached a settlement by then I will order a full hearing where witnesses will be called and it will cost somebody a f*****g lot of money. Comprendez?”
“YES!” we all screamed!