Justice: Not So Blind!
Trib Publisher Michael Schenkler in 2001 being presented the B’nai Brith Humanitarian Award by Howard Krebs. Last week Krebs gave Schenkler a lesson in working the system.
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
This is a personal story. It’s an account of my little run-in with our state’s administration of justice. Other than identifying my attorney, I’ve avoided names or specifics because of obvious reasons and my belief that the story reflects reality in most communities.
Sometime over the summer when returning from a business meeting in the city, I made a left hand turn while heading downtown on either Seventh or Fifth Ave. to go east on 34th St. I didn’t see the sign saying no left turn – nor does it make much sense to me – but the police officer who was waiting on 34th told me and the line-up of other drivers that it was the cause of the tickets he was writing in rapid succession. So rapidly, that I didn’t even get a shot at using my charm, my newspaper connection or the photo Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and me. I’m going to blow it up to 8x10, frame it and hang it below my rear view mirror.
I took the ticket home – thanx officer – and it sat on my desk until a slow weekend day when I pleaded guilty and mailed in the fine.
The Trek Upstate
That was that, until Lil and I headed north one weekend to Saratoga Springs.
Somewhere on the NYS Thruway a couple of hours from the city, I passed a slow moving truck. I’m basically a right lane rider and a quick passer -- then back in the right lane. Apparently, my quick passing was too quick as indicated by the flashing lights approaching me from the rear.
The nice State Trooper told me he clocked me at 15 mph above the speed limit while I was passing – probably true. I used my charm – didn’t try Kelly, we were far from the City – and he took my license and registration to his vehicle to run my record. I thought I had a pretty good chance of not being ticketed until his voice blared over the troopermobile loud speaker: “You’re driving with a suspended license!”
“What!!!” I thought, “I’ve never had a suspended license in my life!”
Well, I got two tickets. One for driving with a suspended license and a another for speeding -- 15 mph above the limit. They informed me to appear in the local court on a specific date. The Trooper continued to be pleasant, suggested I’d be better off appearing with an attorney and told me to drive safely. I preferred to let Lil continue to drive.
The next day, when I got home, I called my friend and attorney Howard Krebs. Howard serves as a Village Justice in one of the nearby Long Island communities and has experience with this type of serious lawbreaking as well as the gamut of legal manuevering.
Howard quickly found out that my summer ticket was paid a few days late and was assessed a small penalty which I was never informed of and therefore didn’t pay. The City system then suspended my license but again, never informed me. Thus, I was indeed driving with a suspended license.
Following Howard’s instructions, I quickly paid the penalty and cleared my record, whew!
Returning To The Scene
This past week, Howard and I headed upstate to court to answer the charges on both the speeder and the driving with a suspended license tickets.
Howard preceded our visit with extensive conversations with the court clerk explaining who we were, why the license suspension had occurred, but was unable to get me out of making the long trip north. He did however apparently establish a relationship with the court.
I recall carefully dressing in the morning. During the recent cold streak, I had been wearing a shirt, tie and sweater below my heavy leather outer jacket. However, I was going to see the judge -- tie and jacket under heavy uncomfortable overcoat was a sacrifice that didn’t require much thought.
We arrived early and were greeted at the magnetometer by a gracious and welcoming officer who asked Howard -- his law case in hand -- “You’re counsel, sir? Welcome to our courthouse.”
We were directed to the courtroom where Howard quickly checked the calendar and informed me we were 72nd to be called. As we entered the courtroom, and saw the prisoners in orange jumpsuits waiting to have their cases heard, we realized they hadn’t started on the posted calendar yet. It was going to be a long day.
Inside The CourtRoom
I commented on my surprise at seeing cuffed and shackled prisoners being guarded by a number of police officers in the same court room where five dozen or so people sat waiting to deal with traffic tickets. But that was not my biggest surprise.
Of the 60 or so people sharing the room with us, Howard and I were the only two wearing jackets and ties. The males were in tee shirts, sweatshirts, weekend wear and a lot of baggy clothing. The women were no more businesslike with their dress. Not one person was dressed well enough to get through a job interview with me.
I shook my head and commented to Howard, “Don’t they even care to try to impress the judge?”
Howard who has been to many courtrooms throughout the area shot back: “It’s generational and upbringing!”
I wondered how Lee, my 27- year-old would dress if he were answering a traffic ticket in court in Utah where he lives and snowboards. Hey Lee, buy a tie! I think (and hope) he knows.
Other than being reprimanded for using my Blackberry to send email in the courtroom – I’m not sure why - there was only one interruption during the prisoners’ arraignment. A court officer entered the room, found Howard and apologized that we had to wait. He explained that they wanted to clear the room of the prisoners and police escort before they began to call the calendar but assured us, that we would be called first.
Howard wasn’t quite sure why. Was it his several prior conversations with the court clerk? Was it that we were the only two appropriately dressed people in the room (by normal court standards)? Was it that we were two middle aged white guys in jackets and ties in a room that ran the gamut of upstate society? Or simply that I came with counsel? We weren’t sure but in the middle of wondering a voice rang out: “Michael Schenkler approach the bench!”
Facing The Judge
Howard and I rose and from the back of the room took our positions at the defendant’s table while the DA was still busy with prisoner paperwork with the public defender and court officers.
“Mr. Schenkler, has your suspension been lifted,” asked the judge.
Howard producing a paper from the NYC traffic folks quickly explained that I was never informed of the late payment penalty or suspension and that it had subsequently been paid while he managed to give our brief bios in the same run-on sentence.
The judge acknowledged personal problems with NYC traffic court administration, both as judge and attorney, and said he understood. The judge accepted Howard’s explanation and statement that the suspension had been lifted and turned to the still-occupied DA and asked if she had any problems if he lumped both tickets into his ACD ruling. (Adjournment Contemplating Dismissal- basically disregards the charges for one year and then they are automatically dismissed as if they never existed.)
“Whatever you’d like your honor,” she said, while still involved elsewhere.
The judge thanked us for coming and sent us on our way with no points, no fine, no record, no nothing except a real pleasant “Have a good day and a safe trip home.”
As we got into the car, I paused and said to Howard: “Let’s go back, it wasn’t fair. I got off scott free because I’m white, professional, respectful and wore a tie, not because of the facts of the case – I really did drive over the speed limit.”
Howard and I looked at each other and laughed.
Tomorrow I’m going to go out and buy a new tie.
If you need a good attorney and are prepared to wear a tie, you can reach Howard Krebs at (516) 773-4099. Tell him I sent you.