Last week I was in Los Angeles (please pronounce as the late Mayor Sam Yorty said: Los Angles). I was there to assist a citizen with some legal matters. The disagreement had escalated to a courtroom. That’s fine. The legal system, for the most part, is there to resolve such issues. The plaintiff had not notified the defendant properly of the court date. The plaintiff did not expect the defendant to appear. The plaintiff filled her pants upon the sight of the defendant in the hallway waiting to answer the plaintiff’s complaint.
It was wonderful to experience the legal system at work. The plaintiff’s complaint was voided via an agreement with a mediator. It wasn’t as satisfying as going before a judge and having the decision ruled in your favor. It wasn’t as satisfying as hearing the theme song to Perry Mason as you walk out of the courtroom feeling like Della Street (That’s me in the center of the picture below. Not really.). It was satisfying just the same to come away exposing the plaintiff as an unprepared little twit that would do well to meet her legal obligations with the responsibility of a grown up adult.
My citizen companion was enthusiastic to play a game of Let’s Cast the Courtroom. This helped pass the time as we waited 1/2 hour for the judge to arrive. Note to Judge: punctuality is appreciated on both sides of the bench. While I was using Barbara Hale as Della Street to play my role, Sam Waterston playing Law & Order’s Jack McCoy is how the defendant wanted to be cast. Done. The remainder of the casting will be revealed via a comedy sketch someday.
Now the judge ordered the feuding plaintiff and defendant to go to mediation and see if they could work things out even though both, when asked, refused mediation. This was an entertaining time for me as if I has slipped down the rabbit hole. The mediator directed me to wait on a concrete bench in the courthouse lobby while the others went to discuss their differences. This was boring. I wandered into the Self Help Center. I had hopes of delving into all sorts of legal reading material. Sadly, there was only a wire rack with a few fliers in Spanish. There was one piece of paper in English. I sat down to learn more. After that stale piece of literature was consumed, I noticed that I was sitting at a computer for the public. Since some of the court staff members were surprised that the defendant even knew about the court hearing, I thought it would be an interesting experiment to see how long it would take for me to look up the court schedule using a public computer. My experiment was interrupted.
“Are you here for the Self Help Center?” I was asked by the young clerk behind the counter located further into the room.
“No. I’m waiting for someone in mediation,” I responded and continued scrolling through the case timeline.
“You can’t be in here unless you’re using the Self Help Center. You have to sign in to use the computers.”
“Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t see a sign telling me to sign in.” I stood up and moved to the counter.
“Are you here for the Self Help Center?” she asked again.
Looking to the two other occupants in the room for confirmation that I was spiraling down the rabbit hole I replied, “Yes. Yes I am here to help myself.” Certainly the Self Help Center was meant for people to help themselves regarding legal matters.
“Are you working on some forms?”
“No. I was simply looking at a court schedule; but I can help myself. Do I need to sign in?”
“Well, finish looking up the schedule then you have to leave. This is for self help. You can’t be here.”
My head must be fuzzy from my travel to LA and the short amount of sleep I had prior to the court appointment. Did she really ask me to leave the Self Help Center because I was helping myself? I needed a drink of water. I shut down that computer and searched for water. Out on the street are vendors similar to the little boy selling tomales in the crowd at the hanging in True Grit. I grabbed a couple of bottles and went back in.
My companion (aka Jack McCoy) said that she had requested that I be called in but the mediator refused. Okay, I’m getting wound up that the case was being forced to mediation, then I got kicked out the Self Help Center, now I find out I was banned from mediation. They would call the two of us in shortly. In the meantime, we relished the cool water and went into the Self Help Center to look at our files and wait.
Glory be. A different Self Help Clerk asks us if we were there to use the Self Help Center. ( I swear they both used the words Self Help Center close to a gajillion times.) I explained that we were waiting to reenter mediation and had materials to work on. No good.
“We’re here to help you at the Self Help Center.” REMARKABLE! “We’re here to help you with forms. Do you have forms you need help with?”
“No thank you. We can work on them by our selves.”
“You can’t stay here unless you’re using the Self Help Center.”
At this point, the clerk rises to her feet and holds her hand up pointing to the letters on the wall behind her showing us with the tone of a kindergarten teacher that this is the SELF HELP CENTER.
“I get it. We’re helping ourselves.” Please note that old Jack McCoy is silent during this entire exchange. Perhaps Jack was simply enjoying the trip we were on.
“What is the reason for your attitude?” the kindergarten clerk snapped.
That did it. I came unwound and proceeded to inform the clerk that her insanity was the reason for my attitude. I can’t remember the dialogue at this point. The mushrooms must have kicked in.
Jack and I retreated to the area just outside the doors of the Self Help Center. I proposed to take a headcount for all the citizens rushing in to use the Self Help Center. Not one person entered during this experiment. These clerks with jobs to serve the public must have had terrible experiences to make them the worst customer service representatives I’ve ever encountered. Ever – that includes England.
Upon my return trip to the courthouse next month, I would like to present to these young ladies a token to remember our shared experience together: