Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A sinister little town

Elmwood Park New Jersey is like one of those sinister towns in sci fi where the citizens prey on strangers. The citizens in this case are the local police and justice department. They lie in wait outside stores in the town and look for motorists who don't have inspection stickers, young people, etc. It's so much eaasier than actually patrolling the streets, sin't it?

I went to court in this one-half horse town (it consists of the rear part of the animal) for a trivial matter which might get you a mild spoken reproof in Delaware on Maryland, for example. At least three hundred people were there, waiting to speak to the prosecutor.

It works like this: you get a ticket, worth 4 points. Your insurance carrier will raise your rates from now to infinity if you mail the town a check for $75, which is what the ticket costs. So you go to court, stand in line to see the prosecutor, and make a deal. The deal is, you pay them $200 and they forget about the points. Your insurance carrier will never know.

Before dealing with the people standing in the line, they saw the miscreants who had lawyers. They went to the head of the line. Court started at 5 p.m. and it was 6:20 before they got finished with the shysters. Then the prosecutor started funnelling in the paying customers. He offered you a deal. Take it or leave it. Everyone took it, except one man who had been to court 5 times for the same offense and apparently had nothing better to do.

Then you go before the judge, who lectures each person. He has a monotonous voice, but apparently likes it well enough, because he talked for three hours.

But wait--as the line snaked slowly, slowly before the prosecutor, a prison guard escorted in five guys in handcuffs and orange jumpsuits. They then took precedence over those who were still waiting. We got to hear the judge excoriating them, as well. Most of them were poor wretches who had pursued an unsuccessful career in shoplifting, judging by their records, which the judge read aloud.

As it happens, I went to traffic court once in Passaic, NJ, a large town with a large immigrant, minority, and generally low-income residents, and there were not nearly as many people there. Those who wanted to make a deal spoke to the prosecutor, paid their money, and left. The judge had no desire to talk to them.

Most of the people in court had done some relatively trivial thing, like not having their insurance card (!!!) when they were stopped, driving on an expired license, etc. None were a danger to themselves or society. Maybe 5 were convicted of DWI, which I grant is a serious offense.

Clearly the legal system functions as a form of revenue enhancement for the town. I'm surprised the streets are not paved with gold.

Incidentally, the police in this burg are paid more than those in Paterson, a nearby big city, where crimes like murder and breaking and entering flourish. But they do bring in the dough.

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