Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A human moment at Maybrook

The Fourth Municipal District Courthouse in Maywood (often called Maybrook) is clearly visible from the Eisenhower Expressway and almost impossible to reach by car.

There are parking lots around the building, and some of these may be used by visitors, but they fill up quickly. Most of the parking is along an access road -- Maybrook Drive -- leading from First Avenue into the courthouse complex (the Cook County Sheriff has a major facility next door). Even these remote parking spaces fill up quickly.

I needed to go there yesterday to review a couple of court files. I'd been putting the task off -- the problems of getting in and out are more than enough to discourage anyone who doesn't have to be there. By yesterday, however, I could put off the chore no longer -- the client was getting anxious -- and it was a beautiful day. I thought to wait -- just a little -- before setting out from home yesterday morning in the hopes of coming in as the first wave of traffic court defendants were coming out. That way, I thought, I might snag a decent parking space.

I was wrong, of course. And two freight trains, one of them stalled for several minutes, made the trip just about intolerable. After carefully driving through all the nearby spaces and seeing how my parking plan had failed, I found a spot at least a half mile distant (not an exaggeration) along the access road.

The Maybrook Courthouse is a rusty looking building. The dominant color inside is brown. Both civil and criminal cases are handled there. The atmosphere is grim -- criminal courthouses tend not to be happy places.

I got in line at the Clerk's office on the building's second floor. The first wave of traffic court (or misdemeanor) defendants had crashed upon this shore and there were many waiting in line in the Clerk's small quarters for various reasons other than payment (I believe fines are paid elsewhere).

I was next in line when a little old lady asked to cut in front of me. Seems she'd received a form from this office that someone in another office told her was inadequate to her purpose, whatever that may have been. She seemed to think it a simple matter of exchanging the wrong form for the right one. I knew better -- but I stood aside anyway. The man behind me -- apparently not a lawyer -- didn't object.

Eventually, though, it was my turn to be served and I requested the two files I had come to examine.

The Clerk's Office in Maywood is a huge square room. The public is herded into a much smaller square just inside the doors. From here, one can see rows of desks staffed with various people seemingly hard at work on various tasks. Police officers from various municipalities were weaving past these desks, cutting through on their way to court or back to the street, saying hello to persons they knew. Around the far walls of the square were shelves holding rows and rows of court files.

The two I wanted were not among these. That's what I was told, several minutes after the clerk who'd noted the file numbers went off in search of them. Actually, he brought back a file -- but it was neither of the ones I was seeking. The clerk turned to his computer terminal and, in due course, determined that my files were in the courtroom where both cases are assigned. They were there because they were too large to be toted around.

Ah, I said. Someone will have to get them and bring them up, he said. It'll be awhile, he said. Have a seat, he said.

I did sit -- for awhile -- but I surrendered it to a mother and child. The mother thought she could keep her child better in check if they were both seated. I'm sure she was right. I hadn't brought much else to read, but I had something. I read it s..l..o..w..l..y, standing in a corner as much out of the way as I could be.

A young man pulling a cart came into the office. My files, I guessed. Five minutes later, my hunch was proved correct.

Normally files are reviewed at the counter. IDs are confiscated as well -- because, believe it or not, lawyers have been known to sneak documents out of court files, or swipe the files altogether. (This despite the warning on the file request form that such filching is a Class 4 Felony.) But, given the small amount of available counter space, I asked if I might not use a side room I'd scoped out during the course of my wait. There were terminals there for members of the public to search computerized court records but these terminals were each housed in little carrels and I thought I could clear enough desk space to allow me to look at what I'd come to look at.

The clerk thought about it -- I was suggesting something out of the usual procedure -- but he agreed.

It took some time to plow through the material. This was a consequence of both the bulk of material and its content. Eventually, though, I identified a few documents that I would need to copy in order to further my task for my client.

I went back out into the main room and hefted the files onto the counter. Is there any way, I asked, that I can get some documents copied?

It is possible, at the Clerk's office downtown, to copy a document or two from a court file. But the copy machines represent a rare profit center for our cash-strapped county and they are priced accordingly. The copy machines are in full view of the counter so (in theory at least) the Clerk's employees can see if someone is plundering a file instead of copying it. The Clerk will also undertake larger copying jobs, for a significant fee, though it might take a day or two.

Since I could see no public copier in the vicinity of the Clerk's office in Maywood -- there wouldn't have been room for any people at all had there been a machine there -- I figured I'd have to make arrangements with the Clerk's office to handle my copying. I hoped I had enough cash to make whatever down payment might be required. I regretted my failure to bring an office check. With all this figuring and hoping and regretting I almost didn't hear the Clerk tell me I could just take the files across the hall to the Law Library and make whatever copies I needed.

You mean I can walk out the door with the files, I asked? They'd shoot someone downtown if they caught him trying that one. But the young man behind the counter assured me that this was the way they did things there. Imagine.

I was treated just like a human being! And the copier in the Law Library was far less pricey than its downtown cousins. It almost made up for the parking... and the interminable wait... well, almost.


Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

as i read this i could not help picturing the place in the blues brothers movie where they went to pay the taxes. and the place under the road where they drove. is that where you parked?

smiles, bee

The Curmudgeon said...

Bee, the "place under the road" in the Blues Brothers movie is lower Wacker Drive and it was and is still downtown. Where I was yesterday is out in the near Western suburbs.

Ellee Seymour said...

A very strange set up, I agree.

Shelby said...

Strange how being treated nicely is underrated.

I liked your sentence, "Seems she'd received a form from this office that someone in another office told her was inadequate to her purpose, whatever that may have been."

Y'know I like beautifully crafted sentences - the ones that make me see a scene.