Even before I became a plaintiff, I loved going to court, into courthouses and courtrooms. Since I’m without church, without bible, I’ve long regarded courthouses as better-than-holy places where I can honor and contemplate the Constitution in its profound complexity.
And courthouses are often architecturally monumental. Awesome places. I have visited courthouses everywhere I travel, from Franklin, Tennessee, to Bordeaux, France. I slip into them as an antidote, an escape from all those glorious ancient churches. (I do get so tired of glorious ancient churches — except the Duomo in Siena, where there is a side chapel with a painted ceiling that is porn.)
New York City has so many court cases, though, some of the courtrooms now have a geez-we-better-stick-you-in-here-for-now because we-just-grabbed-the-space sort of feeling.
My case against the Skush-O’Briens started in a courtroom on the ground floor of a hybrid building that contains (or used to contain) the narcotics division of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, the DMV and other not necessarily related civic virtues. It was a deep but rather narrow courtroom: if you sat in the spectator seats, you had to squint to see Judge Debra James at the other end, up on her bench.
(Oddly enough, my foot fracture case eventually wound up in the same courtroom. They really should put a plaque on the wall, dedicated to me. Something like, I don’t know, “Naomi Fein, Experienced Plaintiff, Came Here in Search of Her Lawyer When He Wouldn’t Respond to Her E-mails.” You know. Modest.)
Although the Skush-O’Brien case, and me with it, moved to another building, it was to a courtroom that is … deep and narrow. So the squint rule still applies.
Before I switched lawyers, I went to that first courtroom several times with my first lawyer, Miss Billy Perry. One of the last times was for a scheduled status conference. (Status conference: a pre-scheduled doctor’s visit when you have a chronic disease, except the doctor is the judge and the chronic disease is your lawsuit.)
Eventually Miss Billy and Izzy Cheesecake, the Skush-O’Briens’ lawyer, were called into the courtroom well to discuss the issues with the judge’s law secretary (the judge herself wasn’t on the bench at that time). I remained in the spectator section.
They all took seats at a table in front of the bench, which was pretty far away from me and virtually out of earshot range. To better hear the discussion, or argument, I walked up to the railing that divides the well from the spectators’ benches. As it happened, I was standing next to the calendar clerk’s desk. Naturally, she and I began chatting. A sidebar to the sidebar.
After a while, the legal argument took a break and Miss Billy returned to my side of the courtroom. As we sat down together, she whispered to me, “Did you hear that? Did you hear what Izzy said?”
I hadn’t. She whispered that he’d accused me of being an “extortionist!” and repeatedly accused me of being … well, of being in court. Yes, in court. For my own case. (This is a criminal offense?)
And in a grand flourish of what he must have thought was res ipse loquitur, he’d darkly pointed out that I was at that very moment … talking to the calendar clerk.
Which is why I hadn’t heard Izzy’s extortion rant. I had indeed been talking to the calendar clerk – about her co-op and its problems.