Tuesday, July 12, 2011

EXTRA: Justice in the dark

For those Chicago-area residents who remain without electricity or who had strong winds blow a tree into their house or onto their car or some other personal piece of property, my tale will seem trivial.

But one of the odd effects of the severe storms that hit metro Chicago this week was that it caused a moment of Justice in the Dark.

I HAPPENED TO be in Joliet Monday morning at the Will County courthouse. A newspaper I do some work for had an interest in a particular defendant.

Which is why I happened to be sitting in the courtroom of Judge Daniel J. Rozak, watching him go through his court call and waiting for the case to be called when the lights went out in the building.

Suddenly, the courtroom I was sitting in was pitch black, and the air conditioning immediately went dead.

Now this particular outage didn’t last long. I’d say power was fully restored to that courtroom within about 10 minutes. Lights flickered on bit-by-bit after a while.

BUT EVEN THOUGH court bailiffs quickly opened some doors so that outside light could creep into the courtroom, it didn’t change the fact that nobody could see much of anything.

What I will remember about this moment is that Rozak didn’t let the lack of light stop him. The case that was before him continued. I couldn’t see anything, but I could hear perfectly as the judge went through all the legalese that ensured the defendant who was pleading guilty did so in a manner that would make it impossible for him to claim at a later day that he was being coerced.

For the record, the case in question was a man caught driving under the influence of alcohol. He got 24 months of court supervision, all done in the dark. About the only thing notable about his case is that he was a Mexican citizen (and yes, he had a valid “green” card indicating his “resident alien” status).

Which means that if Immigration and Customs Enforcement someday wants to be hard-nosed about this case, this man who has lived in the United States for two decades and has family here could face deportation.

I COULDN’T HELP but wonder what this man (who had a court-appointed interpreter at his side) thought about what was going on around him – having a lot of legalese spoken to him in the dark!

American “Justice” at its finest? Or just a humorous moment, since I have to admit that the hearing I heard was in no way memorable. Just another of the thousands of court cases that arise every year from people who get caught imbibing a bit much.

And perhaps I should feel thankful that I was indoors when the most severe weather struck, and that I had electricity functioning when I returned home later that day.

Because some people won’t be able to make that claim for several more days.


No comments: