Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt, The Strenuous Life

By , on March 12, 2011

Legal Views

A most unpleasant experience is watching the judge frown as you argue a point of law. Often the ruling that follows is largely based on what the judge feels is the correct outcome based on his prejudices, not based on things like statutes and constitutions.

It happened to me. Fortunately the cost was to me, not a client. And the cost was a blow to my pride and $5. I fought a parking ticket in a nearby city, contesting the ticket and not requesting mitigation. The frown came when I argued that I did not pay to park because I never saw the pay station and its sign. Its view was blocked by a landscape tree owned by the city, my argument supported with excellent photographs of the dire circumstances I faced on that January day. My guess is the judge was substantially bothered by my admission that I paid nothing. He argued that the parking ordinance did not require the city to post signs at all. Apparently, it would be alright to not notify drivers and simply ticket them. The judge’s mindset was that I was local, despite not living or voting in the jurisdiction, and that I should know what is going on. I didn’t. I left the court wondering what happened to procedural due process; didn’t cities have to provide reasonable notification to folks parking on city streets of how to comply with their silly ordinances? I guess not.

The judge was not a mean guy. He even converted my hearing into a mitigation proceeding and reduced my fine 67%.

Even good judges lose on occasion the idealism and judicial temperament so valued by Americans for our courts.  That’s why we have life appointments for federal judges and the right to jury trials. It is also one reason why many lawyers encourage negotiation and settlement, thus avoiding a court ruling.

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