21 October 2004

Kentucky Courts

As ya'll know, a while back I went back to Kentucky so I could go to my 20th high school reunion. While in town I went to go see the local courts in action.

The first thing I notice is that the courthouses are almost empty. As I walk through the 5 story tall general district courthouse and then the identical building next door for the circuit court, I don't see any officers and only one court is open (in the general district court). So, after exploring for a while I go into the open courtroom.

It's different than Virginia. For one thing they are speaking some strange language - referring to things like "warrants" and "dismissals without prejudice." Nary a Latin phrase to be heard. How can you practice law without speaking Latin? People might actually understand without a lawyer to translate. The HORROR!!!

They also have actual arraignments during the first pretrial hearing. So everyone is standing there giving the pro forma "not guilty." Kinda silly. I don't know how much time there is between serving papers and the first hearing but lots of people already had a lawyer (almost unheard of in the Virginia jurisdictions wherein I practice). Those who had lawyers had their cases called first and, after pleading not guilty, had their next date set. Those with preliminary hearings for felonies had those hearings set at one time and those with misdemeanors had “pretrial conferences” set at a different time.

I go sit in on one of the pretrial conference times and the court is packed. The prosecutors and Defense attorneys are doing their bit up front, negotiating agreements left and right and setting those which are going to trial for jury on a later date (interesting, juries in the inferior court - unfortunately I wasn't in town long enough to watch one). For a while I can't figure out how they are doing it because there are no police around to tell anybody what went on. Then it hits me - everyone has police reports so no police need waste their time at court. Wow!!! How do we get that in Virginia?

Naw. That would take a hefty dose of common sense. Only a few jurisdictions have that hereabouts.

And that's about the extent of my observations of a Kentucky general district court. Well, actually there was one other thing. As I'm sitting there watching the goings on I look at the clerk sitting next to the judge. Now I can't swear to it but the lady looked exactly like the manager of a movie theater I worked at when I was young and dumb. That's not all that remarkable by itself but if she's the same lady she was a pothead who got fired for taking money from the safe (we were not on friendly terms). Interesting . . .

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