My left turn before a hanging judge


My ex-wife and I maintained a fairly amiable relationship after our

divorce. We’d call each other every now and then to see how things

were going. I’d ask her about her new job as a criminal defense


attorney, and she’d ask me how I was doing at the paper.

It was during one of those calls that I grumbled to Melinda about

the traffic ticket I’d just received. I had made a left turn in

downtown Santa Ana, and instantly was pulled over by a motorcycle


cop. I asked him what I had done wrong and he pointed toward a

collection of traffic signs above the light at the intersection. Two

rows down from the “No U-turn” sign, between the “Do Not Block

Intersection” and the “Trucks Over 2,000 Pounds Prohibited” signs and

above the “Left Turn On Arrow Only” sign was a square missive the

size of a bathroom tile that read “No Left Turn Between 8 A.M. and 7


“Can’t you read?” the officer asked rhetorically as he wrote my



“The thing is,” I told Melinda, “I just had that speeding ticket.

My insurance premiums are going to kill me now.”

“Well, mail the ticket to me,” she said. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“There’s nothing to do,” I replied. “I’ll just pay it and be done

with it.”

“Well, let me see what I can do,” she insisted. “At the least I’ll

save you some time in court. I’m there every day, anyway.”


Melinda had offered to do the same when I got my speeding ticket,

and I had refused. The result was a Saturday spent in traffic

“comedy” school, listening to a man called “The Vehicular Laugh

Slaughterer” punctuate all of his bad jokes by honking a bicycle


I mailed the left-turn ticket to Melinda’s office. A month later,

I called her to ask about it.

“Oh, yeah, I was going to tell you. I got swamped at work so I

just extended the due date a month,” she said.

“Are you sure that’s smart?” I asked nervously. “Maybe I should

just pay the money now. I’m going to have to, anyway.”

“No, don’t worry about it,” she said. “I’ll handle it next month,

no sweat.”

The month went by and again I asked her about the ticket.

“I had to extend it again -- it’s been a busy month,” she said.

“Look, Melinda, I don’t want to get pulled over one day and

arrested for an outstanding ticket,” I said. “Let me just pay the


“David, did you go to law school? Did you take the bar? I know

what I’m doing, OK?”

A few weeks later, Melinda called to tell me the ticket issue was


“Fantastic!” I said. “Great job!”

“Well, it wasn’t me, to be honest. I couldn’t make it to court

that day so my partner appeared for me. He pled you to just 40 hours

of community service.”

I took the phone away from my ear and hit the channel button.

“I’m sorry, I thought you said I’d have to do community service.

Really, what happened?”

“No, seriously, Dave, he got you off with community service.

That’s a pretty good deal.”

My eyes bulged.

“Have you lost your mind? I can’t do community service! I just

started a new job! I’m working 60, 70 hours a week these days!”

“Well, are you busy on weekends?”


“Doing what?”

“Sleeping! I don’t know what your partner was thinking, but

there’s no way I can do community service! I told you I wanted to pay

that ticket!”

“OK, OK, calm down,” she said. “I’ll go back in front of the judge

and tell him we made a mistake. You’re going to have to be there with

me, though.”

The next week found Melinda and me sitting in a courtroom in Santa

Ana. “Look, whatever you do, let me do the talking,” Melinda

whispered as we waited for the judge to appear. “I know this judge --

he can be a little grumpy sometimes.”

“All rise!”

“Oh, shut up,” the judge grumbled to the bailiff as he stalked

into the room. He took his seat, yelled at the court clerk for not

having his files in order, and then called the first case.

A lawyer stood up and respectfully explained to the judge that a

miscommunication had caused her client to miss an important court

date on a DUI case. Her explanation sounded perfectly reasonable to

me. The judge asked her if her client was present. A middle-aged man

in a sharp three-piece suit rose from his chair in the galley and the

judge motioned for him to come forward.

The moment the man was standing next to his attorney the judge

said, “I’m not buying it, mister! It was your responsibility to know

when to appear in this court! Three months in county jail and $3,000!

Next case!”

The bailiff led the gasping, stammering man away through a side


Over the next 45 minutes, I watched the judge send two more people

gasping and stammering off to the clink. Then the clerk called out my


Man, this isn’t looking good, I thought to myself.

Melinda stood and nervously explained to the judge that a

miscommunication had prompted her partner to incorrectly ask for 40

hours of community service for her client. Now it turned out her

client couldn’t perform that service.The judge said: “Is your client

here with us today?”

Oh my God, I’m going to jail, I thought to myself as I rose from

my chair. Over a left turn. The judge motioned me forward.

The moment I was by Melinda’s side, the judge bellowed: “I’m not

buying it, mister! I think your attorney here is trying to pull a

fast one over this court! Three ...”

“Your honor, may I say something?” I said quickly. Melinda gasped

and stiffened beside me.

The judge glared at me over his wire-rimmed glasses. “Yes?”

I figured that since I had nothing to lose at this point I might

as well try to brazen my way out of it.

In almost one breath, I told the judge I accepted full

responsibility for failing to communicate to my attorney how busy I

was with my new job and that I loved my job but despite the fact I’d

probably lose my job I was prepared to do community service gladly if

it meant doing the right thing since doing the right thing was first

and foremost on my mind and if that meant going to jail I was

prepared to do that even if it meant getting knifed while standing in

line for a bowl of gruel because I was prepared to face even that for

his honor not to feel my attorney was trying to pull a fast one on

him in any way because I would do anything to make his honor happy.

“Anything, your honor,” I concluded, sweat pouring down my face.


The judge stared at me for a long moment. Then he leaned back in

his chair and laughed. “You think you could repeat that on command,


“I doubt it, your honor.”

“All right, since you’re the only around here who wants to accept

responsibility for his actions, I’m amending your sentence to the

original fine. Pay the cashier on your way out, and I advise you not

to appear before me anytime soon. Next case!”

On the way out of the courthouse, Melinda turned to me and said,

“Wow, thanks, Dave.”

I looked at her, incredulous. “No, thank YOU, counselor!”

The whole episode took less than two hours, but I learned a lot

that morning. I learned you should never try to have your ex-spouse

fix a ticket for you. I learned to always pack a shaving kit when

appearing in court, just in case. And I learned that if I couldn’t

cut it in journalism, I might just have a future at the bar.

* DAVID SILVA is an editor for Times Community News. Reach him at

(909) 484-7019, or by e-mail at