At 7:45 a.m. today I parked my car in one of six handicapped parking spaces serving Kansas City City Hall and the Jackson County Courthouse in downtown Kansas City. One has to get there by 7:45 to insure claiming one of the spaces. I got space 5; seconds after I put my car in park, a Ford slid into space 6 and that’s all she wrote for disabled access to the seats of government in my adopted home town.
At 8:10 a.m. I sat on a bench outside of a division of the Circuit Court (Sixteenth Judicial Circuit of the State of Missouri). An e-mail exchange with the division’s law clerk on Friday had established that my Case Management would be taken first to insure my timely arrival to my next obligation twelve double-blocks south at Juvenile Court. Excuse me, Family Court, though why they changed its name to that, I have no clue. It’s the children who suffer the ravages of the proceedings.
I fidgeted with my tablet, then made sure I had turned all volumes down on both devices — tablet and smart phone. A heavy-set woman with a pleasant laugh juggled a briefcase on a sloped shoulder, standing next to the locked courtroom door. She tried it twice, though the room sat dark behind the windows. I had seen the judge arrive but still no sign of the law clerk.
She arrived at 8:35 right after I started to feel a little damp around the edges of my necklace. I’m sorry I’m late, she said. She didn’t sound sorry; she sounded sleepy. The other lawyer and I followed her into the courtroom and watched as she hurried up to the bench. She made a few jokes about the clock, which said 4:30, but I didn’t laugh. Instead I read an e-mail from the law clerk in my 9:30 case and pondered. Ten minutes later, the judge came out and called my case.
I had a one-sentence “entry of appearance and request for continuance” speech prepared. I spewed it out, then held my calendar poised for the inevitable re-setting due to lack of service. But the judge had done a little reconnoitering of her own. The respondent’s a guest of the DOC, she noted. I confirmed. My clerk said you told her that an attorney promised to enter but didn’t. What’s that all about?
It’s about ten minutes longer than I have time to tell, I thought. And it’s about a lawyer whose name I withheld, not wanting to cause a ripple of negativity in his direction. Not that I cared; but why engender unnecessary professional irritation? And why risk being late to my next setting, when my client there has had to be brought into town from an hour away? But the judge stared pointedly at me so I told her the story. I saw her write something; the lawyer’s name, I felt sure. I promised to serve the state’s house-guest, got a new date, and bolted.
At 9:20 a.m. two women in uniform, not the Department of Corrections kind, brought my client into the waiting area at juvenile court. I sat her down and went over the day’s proceedings, as I had done when I drove out to visit her. Tears rolled down her face — as they had during our earlier visit, on the couch in the waiting area at the locked school where she now resides. Runaways get noticed in our county; sixteen year-old-runaways in foster care with two-year-old sons and inadequate mothering get noticed and locked away. Her caseworker found a box of tissue.
By 9:40, the juvenile officer’s attorney had continued the case with only a shrug in response from the judge. My client did not stop crying until she had her baby in her arms outside the courtroom. I threw my weight around a bit, arranging someone to take her to buy clothes, making sure that the parent aide would be bringing the baby out to see her, offering to bring her personal possessions myself when the cousin from whose home she’d run bulked at doing so. What for? said her cousin, smirking. You’d drive all the way out there to bring her lotion and socks?
Yes. I would. Really.
And then the baby’s guardian ad litem and I went to “You Say Tomato” for breakfast and a good old natter about the failure of the system, the hopelessness of my client’s mother (whose new baby has been taken into care, too, making the total count five) and the unlikelihood that any good would come of any of this, including in “this” all of it, not least our respective, unpaid, and never-ending service.
And then I went to work and tried to make a little money, before the early morning got the better of me, and I dragged my sorry butt home, ate some leftovers, and crawled with a good book into a cozy corner.