Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Losing the Light

I hate covering trials.

I've been a reporter for, ye gods, something close to 20 years and I've only covered a handful of trials and preliminary hearings. And I've pretty much hated them all.

Time loses all meaning in court. Things that in the real world would be done in no time grind down to extreme slow motion as soon as you add a judge and some lawyers. You sit there and wonder when the hell you're going to get out of there.

You watch the sun go down, the shadows grow long and the stars come out and you're still in this goddamn courthouse.

And then you start taking it personally, as in, could you bastards just reach a verdict of some kind, just or unjust, logical or insane, and let me go the hell home?

You swear you're going to quit this nonsense, going to find another job, break down and become a PR man like some many other ex-reporters and start pulling down some real money for a change.

It's like being punch drunk without climbing into the ring.

Fasten Your Seatbelts

I'm just recovering from the latest fiasco tonight. I was in federal bankruptcy court today covering a hearing where the fiscally challenged Delta Airlines is looking to scrap the unionized pilots' contract.

It's big news, no doubt, certainly the biggest case I've ever covered. And it was exciting: here I am in downtown Manhattan with all these big time lawyers and major news organizations. Everyone was crammed into this small courtroom and I had to stand at the door to hear anything. I felt like a high roller.

A woman from CNN (my old company) asked me how long the hearing would take and I just shrugged. It could go on forever and, you know, I was almost right.

The case started with a bang as the pilots' attorney stood and asked the judge to recuse herself on the strength of some of the judge's comments about the pilots in an earlier proceeding. Well, that got Delta's attorney hopping through his rear end, claiming he had been sandbagged and blasted the pilots' attorney for his courtroom theatrics.

Close to two hours, people, that's how long this battle went on. And, big surprise, the judge decided she wasn't prejudiced against the pilots and ordered the hearing to continue. Then another schlamazzle began over the pilots' pension issue, more time went by and we still hadn't gotten to the opening arguments.

I got tired and went one flight down where reporters could sit in an empty courtroom and listen to the hearing on the sound system. I usually like to see the faces that are talking, but I was too frazzled by then. I knew what these guys looked like, so I sat at one of the attorney's table and tried to stay in the upright position.

The hearing took on an eerie atmosphere, with these disembodied voices arguing with each other. The window in the reporters' courtroom was opened a crack so the wind made these bizarre sounds like a lost spirit. And it kept getting darker.

I remember covering a rape trial in Stroudsburg, Pa. for the Pocono Record some 15 or more years ago, and when the jury got the case, me and the reporter from the Easton Express hung out in the hallway waiting for a verdict. And it kept getting darker.

Hang it up

Now, of course, while you're suspended in this legal limbo, the rest of your life goes on, usually in a bad direction so you can do nothing about it but worry. In this case my father's homecare attendant, Mary, left me a message saying she had called the police on our upstairs tenants because they were having yet another brawl.

I loathe these people. They are white trash to the hilt, they've turned our house into a two-story trailer park and I curse the day I ever laid eyes on them. But I'm not a bitter or anything.

Anyway I'm talking with Mary in the hallway when this woman comes flying down the hallway and starts yakking at me. It turns out you're not supposed to have a cell phone in the courthouse at all. The woman, whoever the hell she was, told me I had to give me cell phone to the marshals six storeys below.

I toyed with the idea of slipping my phone into my pocket and just pretending I had gave it in, but I don't have that kind of nerve or that kind of luck. I'd see a marshal in the hallway and look so guilty I'd wind up on trial myself. No thanks.

It got to be around 6 o'clock when the lawyers got through their opening arguments. The judge, who kept up interrupting the attorneys with her questions, comments and observations, finally noticed how late it was and wanted to get the hell out of there. We're all supposed to come back tomorrow at noon.

I retreived my cell phone and discovered that it was raining, so I had to walk five blocks back to my office without an umbrella. I called my editor and he said he didn't think he needed a story, since there was no ruling. I would tend to disagree, but I was so tired, I wasn't going to argue. No story? No problem.

So now I'm home and I'm getting ready to watch another day turn into night while the lawyers argue, the judge rules, and the reporters wish they had chosen another career.

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