An Assertive Judge in the Suburbs- 6.15

It has been a while since I have written and there is good reason for that. I kept putting it off and then when I was planning on doing it, I got the horrible stomach bug that Susan had suffered just a week earlier. I didn’t go to work on Thursday or Friday and while both those times would have been good to write, that would have necessitated sitting up which was not an appealing notion at the time.

Things are moving steadily. Homesickness has set in a bit, particularly because work was a bit slow at times and the WashU kids are still in Cape Town. It’s the little things. Of course I miss John (my boyfriend who I have lived with for almost 2 years) and I miss my independence- it is not really safe to walk around here alone, particularly after dark so I find myself having to go everywhere with Susan. It is nothing personal against her, but I am one of those people who needs my alone time. That will be one of the biggest challenges for me here, but I have already lasted almost a month so I am optimistic. Besides, I have to get through it because I am obviously not going to leave.

Work last week, at least the 3 days that I actually went was okay. TP is working on this big Constitutional issue so he has been focused on his brief. Therefore I have been working with Susan and Tessa (the civil attorney) and picking up whatever work from her I can. Additionally, Shamala, a candidate attorney who is on the older side (married and three kids) took Susan and me to magistrate court in the suburbs. I recognize there are terms I am throwing out without explaining them in context so I am thinking of dedicating an entire post to some of the things I have learned about how this place works and some of the differences between the two countries. But anyway, our court visit was interesting. We got to spend a little time with the prosecutors and learn a little bit about what they do. We also got to see the hectic pace that both the prosecutors and Shamala as a public defender face. Both parties were handed stacks of files with little to no knowledge of the situation and had to sift through them between 8:30 AM and 9:00. The lack of preparation time and some somewhat answered questions about discovery later, I think I have come to the conclusion that the process practiced here would be somewhat unconstitutional in the US. At the very least a lot of lawyers would get sued for malpractice. Granted, most of these cases are pretty clear and it is in the both parties’ best interest to settle, but sometimes it still seems a little haphazard.

A number of interesting stories resulted from that day, best told over a couple of beers. But one interesting story with actual legal implications as opposed to pure hilarity involved a “trial.” Now I have to stipulate that a trial here is more characteristic of an informal Congressional hearing than an American trial. There is little evidence presented and usually it is just a series of witnesses (or in this trial’s case, one witness) that get up and tell their story. The witnesses are allowed to read their depositions or affidavits, or whatever appropriate documents that morning to refresh their memory. I inquired as to how they were expected to impeach the credibility of a witness if they were allowed to review what they had previously said but did not get a clear answer. Despite my poor grades in Civil Procedure, I am pretty sure that you don’t do that in the US.

So the case at hand was a guy that was arrested for drunk driving. His defense was that he was actually asleep in his car and was not moving. The witness, the arresting officer, had originally said that he chased the accused around the corner and pulled him over. He said the guy had pulled over and pretended to sleep and then had laughed at the officer when confronted. The accused was clearly guilty. The whole courtroom was laughing at his defense. The Officer had reviewed his deposition that morning specifying the make and model of the car and the timeline. When he got up to testify, suddenly he listed the wrong make and model of the car and couldn’t remember the timeline. But we all saw him read the deposition less than 3 hours earlier. The case had to be dismissed because the timeline is critical to the charge of drunk driving. The Police have to take the accused to the hospital within 2 hours of getting pulled over for an alcohol test of some kind. Because the timeline could not be proven, the accused got off. Everyone shook their head as the accused walked out giggling to himself. Apparently he was a frequent flyer. After the accused and the witness had left, the Magistrate informed the prosecutor that he was to prosecute the officer for perjury. He said not doing so would be “very irresponsible.” He was a stern old man, but I was still surprised to hear him give such an explicit instruction as to what should be prosecuted. I don’t really know if that sort of thing happens in the US, but it makes me wonder…

Rest of the week was spent sick. Going to the game reserve this weekend! So excited to see animals!

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