The Hall of Justice

Today JJ and I went to The Hall of Justice. Although we did not see Superman, Wonder Woman, or Batman, we did see plenty of heroes and villains.

Seriously. This is completely 100% true.

The Hall of Justice is the name of the district courthouse. JJ had to sit in on four hours of court sessions for his law enforcement class and write a paper about his experience. He didn’t really want to go alone, so I offered to go with him. When I offered, I didn’t think we had to be there for so many hours and I thought he’d be going to our local county courthouse where I will be having Jury Duty in mid-April. I thought it would enable me to see exactly where I had to go so I wouldn’t get lost on the day I had to show up. But, alas, he said he had to go to the courthouse the next county over where his college is located.

Neither JJ nor I were looking forward to going. I remembered years ago when I had to sit in on 2 hours of a trial for a Business Law class at college. A classmate and I went together and watched the opening statements of a malpractice suit. When we stepped into the courtroom we paused for a couple of seconds to locate seats in the crowded room, and a very grumpy judge stopped everything and said, “Would you two young woman mind sitting down?” I felt like melting into a puddle of embarrassment and didn’t want another similar situation. But I had promised JJ, so I gathered up my dread and went.

Today’s experience was completely different from mine.

The Hall of Justice

First of all, there is the name. How cool is it that the governmental building is called THE HALL OF JUSTICE? It brings up thoughts of superheroes and villains, which, of course, it had.

Next, was the look of the building. It wasn’t a boring square government building like most of them. When we pulled into the parking lot, I told JJ, “Oh, my goodness! This is not disappointing! This is EXACTLY what I think The Hall of Justice should look like!” It was a shining modern building sandwiched between two castle-like bookends. The castle parts even had turrets and great wooden doors with big black hinges. I was thrilled! JJ told me that I needed to be serious. I said, “Ok. I’m putting on my serious face…” but it was difficult.

I love living in Northern Michigan. Everything is magical: the towns are cute, the libraries are adorable, the theaters are full of character, and the courthouses are called The Hall of Justice and located in castle-y buildings.

JJ had told me that when we entered the courthouse, we would be physically searched like TSA agents do at airports. I wasn’t sure if I should believe him because we often joke, but I didn’t know that he wasn’t correct. However, I passed through the detectors with no problem and I wasn’t touched. JJ beeped and had to be searched with a wand. We told the guards why we were there and they nicely told us which courtrooms would be busy that day.

We had arrived just after 8 a.m.–just a few minutes before the sessions were to begin. We were the only spectators in the room. A court person asked why we were there and JJ explained it was for his class. Later when the judge arrived, the court person told him why we were there. He walked over to us, introduced himself, asked our names, and then spent time telling us what to expect. He said that after taking care of small hearings–like people breaking probation or having pretrial hearings–there would be an hour or so break so we might want to attend the other judge’s cases, which is what we did.

This second judge was also nice. Again we were the only spectators in the courtroom when we first entered. When the judge arrived he asked us why we were there and when we explained, he also described what he would be hearing that day and he said he’d answer any of JJ’s questions. He said his day was going to be quite busy.

He started out with a couple of video conferences with prisoners who were in the jail. On a big TV screen we could see the prisoners enter a small room one by one and talk to the judge. Apparently the courtroom did these video conferences as often as possible. It cut down on the number of prisoners who had to be transported to the courthouse. I think the jail was located near the courthouse. There were two prisoners who talked to the judge by video. There was supposed to be three, but the third was too drunk to appear so the judge told the police officer to schedule it for the next day.

There were 18 prisoners who had to physically appear before the judge. They would come over in groups of six. The first six arrived wearing orange jumpsuits with both their hands and feet cuffed together. They jingled as they shuffled in. It was just like in the movies. One had an arrogant swagger and it didn’t surprise me that he was often in trouble. In fact, after his problems here were resolved, he had to head over to Arizona. Other people in street clothes periodically arrived for scheduled court dates.

None of these were trials or sentencings, but just brief hearings for DUIs, broken probations, pre-trial hearings, and a couple domestic abuse hearings. Neither JJ nor I are hardened criminals–or any sort of criminal–and we had never seen court hearings except on TV or in the movies. (Well, except for the one two hour session I had to sit in on as a college student years ago.) It was very, very interesting and the hours went by quickly. We saw more than a dozen hearings, I think. We had planned to go over to hear a case the first judge had told us about, but it was a pretrial hearing for sexual misconduct. As we entered the waiting area, we saw a bunch of people who were obviously upset–not vocal, but holding in emotion and comforting each other–and JJ decided he couldn’t bear it. (Neither could I have.) So we left.

We are glad we went to The Hall of Justice today. It was a different exposure into an unfamiliar world. JJ kept saying that he was really glad he never got into trouble with the law. I told him that after our experiences today, I was no longer dreading Jury Duty. It could be very interesting. Although I think a trial would be more difficult–because a juror would have to hear details of a case.

After we left, we stopped in at Joann Fabrics so I could buy some yarn. Then we went over to Culvers for lunch. JJ wanted to order takeout and get home. As I was getting into the Buggy, I accidentally tipped my little cup of ketchup all over my coat sleeve. (I could have ask for packets of ketchup, but I like the cups.) I wiped up most of it and took my coat off. Then I dribbled mustard on my sweater when I bit into my burger. I told JJ: “Next time we are eating at the restaurant.”


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