By Larry Teren
I got the notice in the mail that said my court date was on Thursday, any time in the afternoon from 1pm to 4pm. The accompanying letter indicated the following:
You are hereby invited to appear at the Court of Public Opinion this Thursday afternoon to state your case for any one issue you feel deserves to be resolved. Please call the phone number listed below by Tuesday to state the subject on which you wish to opine. We will schedule a representative of the opposing side of the subject matter to defend against your opinion. If you do not call before the end of the day on Tuesday, do not bother to show up on Thursday.
On the back side of the letter it explained that the reason I was given this opportunity was because I was noted as a heavy commenter on Facebook, Yahoo, YouTube and newsworthy blogging sites I regularly visited. It also said that they did not put a value to my comments but rather kept track of the number I had made. Nor did they care whether they agreed with my comments or not. It was both a courtesy and honor to be given a chance to once and for all put my mouth where my typing was and let the Court of Public Opinion decide if I was right or not- for one subject, at least.
I made the call and showed up Thursday afternoon. I entered the courtroom, was given a number tag to hold onto like a customer at a deli counter at a supermarket. It read 14. I looked up at the docket and saw that the current number was 6 and it was already 1:30pm. I wondered if this would be a wasted trip figuring that they would never get to me by 4pm.
Around 4:45pm, they were on number 12 and assumed that they would close up in fifteen minutes and tell me to either come back the next day or re-register. I got up and started to walk out when I heard a bang and someone yell, “hey, you- get back here!” I turned around and saw that the judge was looking at me. So, I naturally said, “who- me?”
He replied, “yes you!”
Me: “But I thought the court was going to end in fifteen minutes, so I figured it was smart to leave.”
Judge; “Well, you figured wrong. You’re the last case I hear today even if it takes another hour. So, get back here, sit down and shut up.”
I returned to my seat and waited until my number was finally called about forty-five minutes later.
In the meantime, I was concerned that I didn’t start off on the right foot with the judge and that he would be prejudiced against me.
At 5:30pm. I was asked to approach the bench along with a fellow from the bullpen of lawyer types. At least, I think he was an attorney because he clutched a big leather-bound attache case. The judge spoke up: “Okay, young man. You understand that you are being given an opportunity to express your opinion on one subject matter. It says here that you choose to pontificate about parking in Chicago. Go ahead and make your opening remarks.”
Me: “Well, first- thanks for calling me young man but it is possible I am older than you.”
The judge jumped in and yelled at me: “look, kid- trying to joke with me is not going to help your case. Just stick to the facts.”
Me: “Well the fact is I am not a young man. Haven’t been for years. And- that is a fact. But, I’ll let it go.” As I was saying this, I noticed that the judge was writing notes on a piece of paper and also said something in a whisper to his bailiff.
I continued. “If it pleases the court, I’d like to state a few facts about the parking options within the Chicago city limits.”
The judge jumped in, “It pleases,” rolled his eyes and then looked at the bailiff and both of them laughed . “Go ahead”, he said.
Me: “Until a few years ago, it used to be that parking meters in Chicago were priced to encourage people to do business in the local shopping areas. Basically, every four blocks or so going north from Madison Street is supposed to be a mini shopping district. The side streets in between are mostly only for residential parking and therefore have no need for parking meters.
“As a kid I recall that you could put a penny in the meter slot and get a few minutes while a nickel or dime could buy you a lot of time. Later on it became that a quarter could buy you a whole hour. This was very helpful in letting shoppers park with the comfort that they could spend a good amount of time buying merchandise from the local shopkeepers.
“Not anymore. Today it costs so much to use a meter that one or two coins won’t cover it. You need to use dollar bills or worse, a credit card. It can cost a few dollars to park for up to an hour. And worse, the company that oversees the meters diligently check for scofflaws who let the time expire and give them a ticket that results in a more than $100 fine.
“What results is that the shopper either looks to park on a side street where there are no meters and walk a longer distance or totally stop going to those stores to make purchases. If you happen to drive by on any of these business district streets, you see right away that there are hardly any cars parked at all. Many of the local neighborhood stores have moved to the suburbs or gone out of business. Who gains by this? Certainly not the meter people either if no one is feeding those machines.
“Therefore, Your Honor, my opinion is that the City of Chicago ought to admit that they made a big mistake and rescind the deal with the meter company. Put it back the way it was. Okay, they can raise an hour’s meter charge to two quarters if need be. In this economy, we need to find incentives for local stores to stay in business. Not to make hindrances.
“I realize that it is not easy to undo a deal where the City took a lot of money upfront and already spent it. The meter people have made a lot of money on this deal and won’t go belly up if the deal is canceled. The idea is for City of Chicago decision-makers to serve the people and not make stupid decisions. That’s all I got to say.”
The judge asked the lawyer-type guy to speak and rebut my remarks. He began:
“Your Honor, may it please the court if I bring up a couple of facts. First, this person who has the gall to come here to express his opinion about City of Chicago parking rules doesn’t even live in the city. He lives in the suburbs. So he should mind his own business.”
The judge looked at the bailiff and shook his head as if to say, “tsk, tsk”.
“Second, Your Honor- As Corporation Counsel for the city, I can truthfully state that we don’t give a rat’s you-know-what he or anyone else thinks. He can opine and comment from here until tomorrow. We do what we have to do. We have jobs, pensions and paid insurance. And have civil service protection. We do what we have to do even if it costs everybody else more money.
“Finally, Your Honor- it is a privilege to come here and speak on behalf of our great city. What time are we playing golf on Sunday?”
Judge: “The Court of Public Opinion rules in favor of the defendant. Thank you all for coming. Uh, John- I reserved the tee at 9am. Okay?”