Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Choose Your Punishment....Your Day In Court.

Most of you don’t know that I have a criminal record in Virginia. [Please don't tell anyone!]

Probably ought not to mention it at all; but I hope by now, the statute of limitations has run its course on my offense. I only bring this up at this time because my past indiscretion and subsequent conviction may suggest a way out for all of us  - a way to save face - with  "the horrendous CUNA/League/"Choice" mess".

The incident occurred about ten years ago on a road trip from North Carolina to Washington, DC with my wife and three of our children – all early teens at the time. Actually, we were driving to DC to attend CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference. So you know from experience it was February, cold and overcast – darkness comes early that time of year.

When driving with multiple children; it’s usually wise to start late, feed early, and hope for the best. We had stopped at a DQ on I-85 at the Virginia state line as dusk fell. We thoroughly overwhelmed the drive-thru clerk; sorted out the ketchup, salt, and napkins; then turned up the radio; and headed north. A bit later, after an intense ketchup fight had been quelled; the car looked and smelled like a vandalized DQ franchise. We were practicing our family a cappella to the Beach Boys tune Barbara Ann, and things were really starting to roll. About the fourth round of Ba-Ba-Ba; Ba-Ba-Barba Ann, my wife interrupted alarmingly with a “Slow down, you’re going too fast!”. I attempted to moderate my tempo of Ba-Ba-Ba’s, but that was not exactly what she had in mind.

At that moment we crested a hill in the darkness and the blue light came on. The officer was a well-rounded, brown-shirted county deputy. As I rolled down the window, he asked if I knew how fast I had been going. Before I could claim ignorance and try to explain the Ba-Ba-Ba distraction; my wife chirped in with a defense: “Officer, I had just told him to slow down!” 

I know what you’re thinking; yes, we’re still married.

“You were going 92 miles per hour, sir.” My embarrassment was not relieved by several voices from the back seat going: “Wow, 92 miles an hour! Did you hear that! 92 miles an hour! Wait until I tell…” Normally, I would have been arrested on the spot but the officer glanced at the “rather cool” expression on my wife’s face and the three “bleeding” children (the ketchup fight!) in the back seat and decided a ticket and order to appear in court would be the best choice for the County. Things were, shall we say, rather quiet for the remainder of the drive.

Back home, a week or so later, I “confidentially” called several credit union folks I knew in Virginia for advice and guidance. Most didn’t even try to disguise their guffaws and hysterical amusement at my dilemma; but all, interestingly, recommended exactly the same local, country lawyer to represent me. By the way, Southern Virginia is still a very traditional society. A genteel aristocracy still exists who often conduct their lives in an “antebellum” fashion. The “bellum” in this case is either the Civil or Revolutionary bellum – depending on the length of your historical pedigree. There has always been some “social tension” between Virginians and North Carolinians. We’ve always suspected that the aristocratic Virginians viewed us as peasants; and Virginians have never bothered to deny our suspicions. North Carolinians, by nature, are egalitarians with a view toward a “classless society”; Virginians believe we have achieved that goal.

Called the attorney; he was pleasant and accepted my case. After he received a copy of my driving record in a large FedEx box; he became more circumspect. He didn’t actually mention the possibility of hanging, but he was neither optimistic nor encouraging. He said a conviction at 92 miles per hour meant a mandatory loss of driving privileges. We needed a plan, he said.

Won’t bore you with the whole details of his plan, but it involved several driving courses, letters of personal reference, prayers, public penitence, and a delay until the regular judge went on vacation. My attorney had some hope that a “circuit riding” judge he knew might find more sympathy for a “special plea” from me. Eventually the circuit judge was scheduled to sit in November and I went to Virginia for “my day in court”. Guess I should also mention that Southern Virginia is one of the poorest areas of the State; farming, textiles, furniture have long ago moved “off-shore”. The principal crop in this County is now – you guessed it! – traffic tickets. The courthouse – you guessed it! – is new, large, and magnificent!

There must have been over 750 people in the
courtroom that day. Crime wave? No, all were traffic violators; mostly with out-of-state accents!! I met my attorney for the first time. He was distinguished, sophisticated, wore a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches, bow-tie, smoked a pipe. He reeked of polish and urbanity. I knew right away; I really was a peasant. He told me he had arranged for my case to be the very last case to be called on that day. We started at 8:30 am and by a quarter to twelve, justice had been served on 749 of the 750 cases. Convictions were nearly universal; fines and penalties were steep.

Only the judge, a recorder, my attorney and I remained in the cavernous courtroom. My attorney said that was part of his plan; he didn’t want any witnesses!! We approached the bench; the recorder recited the facts of my case. I was thinking it was going to be a long walk back to North Carolina.

The judge looked me up and down severely.  He made one statement and asked three questions.  "Mr. Blaine, the speed limit on I-85 is 65 mph and is posted on numerous signs up and down the highway.  Are you from North Carolina?" Yes, your Honor.  "Where did you go to college?"  The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, your Honor.  "Mr. Blaine, given your North Carolina background and inconclusive education, I will make the assumption that you were speeding due to the fact you could not read the speed limit signs.  How do you plead to the charge of illiteracy Mr. Blaine?"  I hesitated;  I didn't like my choices - negligence or ignorance.  My attorney coughed loudly and jabbed me sharply in the ribs.  The judge repeated: "Well Mr. Blaine how do you plead?"  

Guilty, your Honor.  "You most certainly are, Mr. Blaine, and it's now official.  Court dismissed."

I wrote a check for the fine and court costs; signed with an “X”; and headed home, slowly, for North Carolina.

But how does this help us with the "CUNA problem”? Well, with all the controversy, name calling and finger pointing going on over last year's CUNA system debacle; I thought I might suggest that we all just “cop a plea”. The “CUNA/Leagues/"Choice" fiasco has happened; we all make mistakes; it cannot be undone.

Perhaps it’s time to consider a “Virginia solution”.

             [C'mon, everybody plead dumb, and let's move on!]


Anonymous said...

Your children were in there early teens 10 years ago? I guess it is true what they say about the mind being the second thing to go with age.

Jim Blaine said...

Yes, it's one of many things that go... but who's counting?

Jim Blaine said...

BTW, really didn't worry about it too much until my wife gave me a dog collar for Christmas which had our phone # on it and the phrase "Answers to Jim".

Anonymous said...

Insightful Judge. Able to recognize a challenged individual. Light punishment. Incarceration may have led to greater discipline later in life.

Jim Blaine said...

The real problem was the Judge was a UVA graduate which means he was a yahoo! Or a wahoo... or something like that... anyway whatever.

Sundeep Kapur said...

A self-driving car might help, but the city might loose out on the revenue.