Cops, judges, they're saints


IT ALL BEGAN a few months ago when I was driving along in my usual cautious manner: hands on the steering wheel in the 10 and 2 o'clock positions while maintaining a proper distance between me and the car ahead.

Yet despite this shining example of vehicular safety, a policeman pulled me over and asked to see my license and registration.

"What's the problem, Officer?" I asked politely.

All the while I was thinking: These police officers really do a heck of a fine job. You have to give them all the credit in the world for their bravery, dedication and professionalism.

"Sir," said the policeman, "you were doing 42 in a posted 25 mph zone. I'll have to give you a ticket."

See, I thought, that's the whole problem with these damn cops. You give 'em a badge and a gun and all of a sudden they think they're God. Or a latter-day Wyatt Earp.

Imagine the nerve of this flatfoot! Here you have murderers blithely walking the streets, drug dealers on every corner, roving gangs of hoodlums hurling garbage cans through shop display windows and helping themselves to the loot.

And what's this cop doing? He's out harassing decent, God-fearing motorists who, OK, happen to be running a little late. And maybe not paying as close attention to the speedometer as they usually do.

In any event, after consulting with my attorney, Slawson -- who, unfortunately, was speaking from a pay phone outside his jail cell in El Rio, Texas -- I decided to fight this speeding ticket.

So the other day I found myself in traffic court along with about 75 other people who, at the risk of making a snap judgment here, all looked guilty as hell.

My God, this was a sorry-looking group of scoundrels, deadbeats, ne'er-do-wells, neo-Nazis, radical environmentalists and one or two radio talk-show hosts.

Quite frankly, it looked like the exercise yard at San Quentin. When the judge spots me in this crowd, I thought, it'll look like I have a halo over my head.

One little old lady told me she had five grandchildren and ran a local flower shop, although if pressed to guess her occupation, I would have said: stick-up artist.

Another shifty-eyed fellow claimed to be a high school math teacher, although anyone in his right mind could see he was probably an escapee from a chain gang and one step ahead of the FBI.

In any event, one by one, we stepped to the front of the courtroom to tell our stories to the judge.

For 45 minutes, he listened to one ridiculous hard-luck tale after another. This guy didn't know how fast he was going because his speedometer was broken. This woman went through a red light because she was hurrying to pick up her sick sister. This fellow was doing 85 through a school crossing zone because (snicker, snicker) his accelerator was stuck.

What was really scary was that the judge actually appeared to believe most of these sob stories, since he was dismissing cases left and right. Apparently all you need to be a judge these days is a dark robe and an endless capacity to endure BS.

Finally, it was my turn to state my case, which was done with an eloquence and grace that absolutely riveted the courtroom:

"Your Worship, I, um, don't think I was, uh, going as fast as this fine officer -- Officer Kelly, was it? -- says. See, I had just, uh, given blood and was on my way to volunteer at the orphanage when the officer stopped me. By the way, Your Grace, did I mention I'm a former altar boy?"

For a brief moment after I finished speaking, a soft shimmering light seemed to descend upon the courtroom. Off in the distance, you could hear birds singing sweetly and the gentle sounds of a harp.

Then the judge said: "OK, I'm giving you a break this time," and I walked out of that courtroom a free man. Even more importantly, I walked out without two points on my license and a huge hike in the payments made to those blackmailers at my insurance company.

I'll tell you something about these judges: They really do a heck of a fine job. The hours of training and endless preparation they bring to their jobs is incredible, as is their ability to arrive at the truth time after time.

And you can't say enough about our fine police officers, either. Now that I reflect back on it, the officer who stopped me was just doing his job, and a darn fine one, too.

We're really very lucky to have people like him.

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