The Christmas spirit was lively
Thursday morning at the Hall of Justice.
A group of inmates inside a detention
cell in the courtroom were chatty as they wait for the public to be let into
the courtroom and Judge Kevin McGee to begin the proceedings.
The inmates joke about justice north
of the LA city limits.
"Come here on vacation," a
male voice says loudly.
"Leave here on probation,"
a female inmate - a few people down from him - chimes and completes the
A few chuckles surface from inside the cell.
On the opposite side the of the
courtroom, the bailiff, Deputy Ramirez, is directing the people traffic. Deputy
Ramirez greets people as though they were walking into his new car showroom
with a lot of "yes, sir," "No, ma'm" or "Good
Morning" as they approached his desk to ask questions.
Deputy Ramirez always seems to be in
good mood, always professional and always polite.
His smile helps to ease some
courthouse fears and concerns. Sometimes, he plays music - Vivaldi, Oldies,
County and Western - in the afternoon.
He said he started playing the music
because it helped drowned out attorney-client conversations between inmates in
custody who are standing close to the metal while talking to their lawyers on
the other side.
People on the front row can often
hear these private conversations.
The music, especially Vivaldi, also
seems to put the whole court in a mellow mood.
I admire Deputy Ramirez's patience and professionalism, and that in his heart, the Christmas spirit seems to be 24/7, 365 days a year.
He is also a scoutmaster, and proudly
told me that his son is one merit badge from being an Eagle scout. The boy has
42 merit badges and only needed 21 but the one he needs is the emergency
preparedness badge. It is a required merit badge to be an Eagle Scout, the highest
level in scouting.
Before the public is allowed into the
courtroom, I bumped into a lawyer with a white bag.
She gives me one of the wrapped,
small banana bread gifts she has inside the bag.
"Don't think I am trying to
bribe the media," she jokes.
I smile, "I won't. Thank
She walks over, reaches inside her bag and also
gives Deputy Ramirez one of her banana-bread gifts.
The door is open to the public and
dozens and dozens of people file into the courtroom.
It is not a packed courtroom today.
So it will not be as busy in the large courtroom as other days.
Most people are there to know their
fate or to support loved ones, friends and family.
I am there waiting for Gina Drake to
be arraigned for murder.
Like clockwork, Deputy Ramirez
recites the courtroom rules: no talking, no cell phones, no sunglasses, not
talking, no trying to communicate with the inmates, period or a person will be
asked to leave.
Judge McGee enters the courtroom and
sits on the bench. There are many files ready to go.
Lawyers, the court reporters, court clerks, additional
deputies and an interpreter are all in place.
The judge is flanked by two
poinsettias sitting at the lower level wooden counter. There are three more
poinsettias in the courtroom.
The judge, who is one of the
courthouse workhorses, begins hearing one case after another
One young defendant learns his fate
early in the court proceedings.
The judge tells him that the district
attorney isn't going to file misdemeanor criminal charges against him.
"Yessss," he says in a low
voice as he leaves the courtroom with a smile that looks like it was lifted
from Vegas jackpot winner.
I'm sitting on the front row and I'm thinking:
Meeeerry Christmas, dude, as I watch him leave.
Ms. Drake pleads not guilty and
leaves the court with her attorney.
I get some quotes from Drake's lawyer
and the prosecutor Rameen Minoui.
Mr. Minoui and I wrap up our
conversation outside the courtroom. He spots a small amount of cash
waded up and lying on the long courthouse floor, which is used by hundreds of
people every day. Another prosecutor walks past the money, and tells
Mr. Minoui that it is not his money.
A woman who had a court case earlier,
passes by and hears what is going on. She asks what Minoui plans to do with
the money because she has a friend that can really use the money.
Yeah, right, I am thinking, and I just got off the turnip truck.
Mr. Minoui ignores her. She leaves.
He tells me that he is going
to give it to a homeless person.
Good idea, especially at this time of the year, I said.
He then has another idea and asks me
to give the cash to a homeless person.
Why me? You do it, I replied.
You're going outside the building
so just hand it to someone, he said.
I told him it would be nice
to see this person's smile when i hand him the money.
I took the money and decided to add some
bucks of my own to the newly found cash.
I go to the newsroom in Camarillo and
quickly bang out the Gina Drake arraignment story, update files, work on an annual work performance report that's overdue.
Hours later, I leave work and walk up to a homeless
shelter and see a man in his early thirties cross the street, heading toward
I walked up to him as he is about to
enter the building.
I hand him the cash.
"Here you go. It's from me and
Rameen, Merry Christmas," I said.
There is no smile on the bearded man
with black glasses, just a soft, very appreciative voice.
"Thank you. You didn't have to do
this," he said. "And Merry Christmas to you. Thank you."
"You're welcome," I said and left.
FOOTNOTE: I will be on vacation until Jan. 4, heading to
El Paso to visit some relatives.