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
“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,
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?”
“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
“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
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.”
“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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.