I fought the law and I won: Teen Court 1996

Dead Kennedys…aw yeah.

Anyway, by the time I was 12, it as pretty much drilled into me that my task in life was to go to law school and eventually become Santa Cruz County judge. My maternal grandfather was a county supervisor, and from the time I could sell a Girl Scout cookie, I was dragged through the old county courthouse on Morley and forced to talk to every secretary. Btw, the statute of justice that stood atop the courthouse did not have a blindfold. The original head fell off and when they replaced it, they’d bought the wrong head. If there were a more perfect metaphor for miscarriage of justice in Nogales, I don’t know it.

To say that I was a natural at human interaction would be a stretch. What I could do was fake charisma. Someone who is good at human interaction becomes a doctor or a teacher. I was a sociopath who could turn on the charm at the drop of a hat. So, of course, I was a perfect for public speaking and the law.

When I was a junior in high school, Judge Corsaro (then Ram) and a juvenile probation officer came to talk to our IB History of the Americas class about this new opportunity: Teen Court. Teen Court was a high school volunteer program in which teens played prosecutor, defender, bailiff, and jury. The juveniles who were on trial had already copped to the crime and were just there to be sentenced to anything from one jury duty session to writing apology letters and doing time…as a volunteer. Funny how none of them were actually volunteering. It was court mandated by the judge. Oh yeah, and the judge was always played by some local attorney.

You better believe I shot my hand up and asked to join Teen Court. The chance to wear my mother’s sandy pink blazer with giant shoulder pads and her Navajo rug print wrap skirt was just too appealing. The idea of holding sway over an entire courtroom was intoxicating. I loved the sound of my own voice spouting my own opinions. I didn’t care about the crimes or the criminals or even the victims. Power, boiled down to its very essence, was pretty much all I craved at the time. I was already on the school board. Like the actual NUSD school board. I puzzled and annoyed people my own age and they rejected me. But I didn’t care because, between you and me and this blog, none of them were remotely cute. Except John Duncan. But that’s another story.

I got selected to be a public defender, which sucked for me because I wanted to be a prosecutor. But what I learned in Teen Court is that it’s pretty easy to win as a prosecutor. The kids already fessed up. The jury wants to sentence them. But being a public defender? That was the real show.

When I saw the “judge” that first night of trial, held at the new courthouse my grandfather had been instrumental in building, I fell in love smitten kitten style. Matt Davidson. Jesus Christ he was cute. At the time, Friends was all the rage. I was a Ross fan…because if you showed me any vaguely Jewish man with good brown hair aged 16-40, I would have been a fan of that man. I don’t think Matt is Jewish…but he sure was cute. And right out of law school. But for a 16-year old kid, a 25-year old man might as well have been Bernie Sanders. Old as dirt.

I figured right then and there…men in suits are hot. And, yes, I will keep coming back to Teen Court, if just for Matt.

Funny thing was, I was really good. I’m not making that up. My first case was one of four seniors who got caught vandalizing the high school with spray paint. They were caught red handed. They were unapologetic. They were the cool boys who had few fucks to give. These guys deserved the book thrown at them, and then maybe slapped against their faces a few times to wipe off their shit eating grins.

They each had separate counsel (because, you know, conflicts). I represented the cutest one. ¡Focus! I had to remind myself. If you haven’t learned by this point, I have always liked boys a whole lot. I just didn’t know how to approach them.  And, yes, that sentence is in past tense, but come with me to a bar tonight and I will fumble hard with in-person communication with a stranger. It’s the saddest thing. I do my best work online.

Focus. Right. So basically, I laid out the various punishments to this kid. I couldn’t coach his testimony–we’d learned that much in orientation–but I could tell him what the jury would be looking for. Was he sorry? Sure! Had he apologized to Dr. Handsy Varona? Of course! Has he done nice things for humanity? This boy was a saint! Kissed his grandmother hello and goodbye and went to church on Sundays.

I get him on the stand. He’s cute. He looks contrite. I ask Judge Hotty Davidson if I can approach the witness because my pink Guess jellies that went with my mom’s suit really do show off my calves. I had rocking calves at sixteen.

The other three boys did get the books thrown at them. Max volunteer time. Max apology letters. Max jury duty sentences. Pretty easy to have guessed. My boy…he got the minimum. One jury duty sentence. Perry Mason, eat your heart out.

I won the next case by putting my 11-year old client’s mother on the stand to show both how surprised she was that he would throw rocks at windows and also that she was furious with him and had punished him thoroughly at home. Again…one jury duty sentence. His sister, a fellow cheerleader who hated my guts (who didn’t, I was awful), thanked me in person for about a week. It was embarrassing. I have trouble with sincerity and vulnerability.

The adults at court caught on to my skills. I understood the basics of defense. But more importantly, I was friggin great on cross with actual cops and I commanded that room on close. I had everyone eating out of the palm of my hand.

I may never have been built for law. Law is mostly a paper shuffling practice. It’s boring. But I was built for strategery, to use a Will Ferrell/W phrase, for trials and for showmanship. I’m a ham. Always have been, always will be.  I can give extemporaneous speeches, make ’em funny, make ’em poignant, bring the house down, drop the mike, and walk off stage to a standing ovation. I’ve done it. In Nogales, in Tucson, in Phoenix, and then in Washington D.C., at the U.N., all before the age of eighteen.

I wonder if Matt Davidson is still cute. Years back, I was looking for a used BMW and saw that he was selling one on Auto Trader. All the feelings came back. He was my first grown up, real live person crush. Later, when my sister needed a lawyer to fight for custody of her son, I called him up. She couldn’t afford an attorney, so D and I footed the bill. Matt gave me a discount because I happened to mention my crush on him. I know what you’re thinking. But I’ve got words for days. It didn’t come off as creepy.

I’ve long since stopped having an autonomic response for a cute guy in a suit. Most of them are creeps. It comes with the territory. But I never lost the bug for public speaking. That, I found out, was a lasting love.

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This is a picture of me in the courtroom I mentioned before…but when I was 13.
Left to right: Peter (cousin), Andrea (sister), Janet Reno (badass dance club host/U.S. Attorney General), Simon (cousin) and me (in a blazer).

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