Why we do it.
I had to stand as bailiff, the other day.
The officer who regularly handles our municipal court bailiff duties wasn't available, so I got called in to handle it.
Usually, the bailiff in our little municipal court kind of acts as a gofer for the judge and the court clerk, and stands around making things look official. I don't much care for it, but it's part of the job, and it's a job that needs doing. Every so often, court rooms can get a little tense, and ultimately, the bailiff's job is security for the court.
On this occasion, part of my job was helping out with a jury trial. We don't have a lot of municipal jury trials. Starting about 45 minutes before court was to begin, good citizens began filing in with their jury trial notification forms. I helped out the court clerk by taking their filled-out forms, assigning them a jury badge, and providing them with paperwork from the judge informing them of their expected duties and behavior. I was impressed by the huge turn-out. We got about an 85% response rate, with several of those who hadn't shown having already contacted the court clerk with legitimate reasons for not responding.
None of the jury candidates was particularly irritated about this disruption in their lives. They simply came to do what they were called to do. I made it a point to thank each one directly for attending.
The voir dire was longer than I would have thought, with both the prosecutor and defendant's counsel doing their best to weed out potential problems, and both making a sincere effort to get the remaining candidates to keep an open mind to their own side.
The trial was a simple traffic court. The charge was the most common: speeding. The defense raised some great points, and the prosecutor courteously treated those points as genuine threats to the State's case. Direct examination, redirect, closing statements-- all were delivered with the solemnity of a murder trial. The trial took two hours before the jurors adjourned to their room, deliberated, and came back with a verdict.
In Texas, Speeding carries a minimum fine of $1, and a maximum fine of $200. Given the cost of paying the judge, the court clerk, the prosecutor, the bailiff, and paying for the building overhead, the city wasn't going to profit a dime from this, no matter what the outcome.
The jury decided that the defendant was guilty, and the judge thanked them, discharged them, and set the fine. The prosecutor and the defense attorney both shook hands and left.
The court clerk remarked to the judge that it hardly seemed worth all that trouble, what with bothering all the jurors to come in, then going through the selection, then taking so long for the trial, for such a small fine. The judge immediately said, "No, this is the most important thing that we do here. If we didn't treat each and every case with this kind of respect, your job would be a lot harder, and the city would be a joke."
I have to say that I agree. Every ticket that I write, I need to be prepared to defend to the court why I have compelled a person to address the issue at hand. If I am not prepared to endure that scrutiny, than my badge, uniform, and office mean nothing. Considering that failure to respond to a citation in Texas means that a warrant will be issued by the court, that piddlin' little ticket actually is pretty important. And occasionally writing tickets to enforce the rules of the road is part of what makes it generally a safe proposition to drive through our little town.
I live here, too.