City Court in Mississippi towns, and I suspect most everywhere, is a place where traffic tickets, minor disputes, neighbor arguments, and assorted misdemeanors are adjudicated. Most folks make the trek to the Clerk’s office and pay the ticket albeit begrudgingly. Those few disgruntled citizens eager to explain themselves or offer some excuse which will hopefully persuade the judge to go light or even dismiss the charges show up in the courtroom. The depth of dismay at having to fight a charge is evident. So too is the height of hope that one might avert the consequences if just the right defense is offered.
A lower court judge quickly becomes a lie detector with a high degree of accuracy. It is not just the explanation but the attitude of the defendant, the body language, eye contact, and dang it the plain novelty of the defense which you intrinsically know to be true. Some stories simply ring true. You can feel the truth vibes. You can also feel the lie vibes like waves of crap being thrown at you. Experience teaches. Having raised two active boys didn’t hurt either. I once had a mama appear before me who swore, “My boy has never told a lie his whole life, judge.” I told her, “Lady, his name must be Jesus Christ because my two boys lied all the time lady!”
The clerk called the next case. “James Dedeaux”, a Frenchman and we have a lot of them in south Mississippi. We have Boudreauxs, Necaises, Sauciers, Morans, Heberts, Landrys, Trahans, and finally Ladners, a great many Ladners. I married one. I never met a Frenchman who wasn’t a character of some sort. My father-in-law used to say there are two types of Ladners, the school teacher Ladners and the moonshiner Ladners. He was a teacher Ladner. My wife got a double dose of French heritage. Her mother was a Dedeaux and her father a Ladner. Her Mother didn’t speak English until she started first grade.
The old grizzled farmer wanted to tell his story. He had been wronged and by God it wasn’t his fault. He wore “overhauls” as we often call a garment better known as overalls. They were dirty and one leg was stuffed down into an old boot and the other barely hid the other boot. A brown dried up crusty substance was on the soles. I didn’t want to know what it was! If he had a tooth in his head I didn’t see it.
“Mr. Dedeaux,” I said, “sir, you are charged with running a stop sign. What do you say about it?” Very few lawyers appear in municipal court thank God, so it is best to cut to the chase once the prosecutor finally shuts up and ask the defendant what happened.
He looked around turning his head to the back and then straight at me and then to the back again. I was looking at a human owl.
“Well”, he said. The well was pronounced weeel. “It was like this judge.” He turned around again looking from side to side. “I seen that stop sign. Now, I didn’t see no cop. I seen that stop sign.” Again, he rotated his head to the right, back at me, and to the left again. “I couldn’t rightly stop. You know what I mean?”
I didn’t know what he meant. He yanked his head back to the right and to the left once more. Was he looking for help or someone to back him up? “I was agona stop see, but I had me some red beans and rice for lunch (a staple fare in South Mississippi) and I seen the stop sign and I had my foot on the brake.” Once again he performed the owl movement with his head.
“Judge (pronounced Jedge) just then come a big fart and I had to lift my cheek up to let it out you know?” Actually, I did know and had the scene seared in my brain. “I couldn’t hardly hit the brake with that old fart acoming out.” The courtroom burst out in laughter. My bailiff laughed so hard snot came out his nose, tears ran down the clerk’s cheeks, and I had to turn around in my chair and do the owl move myself.
Ten minutes or more passed before we calmed down. All the while the Frenchman laughed too enjoying the uproar he had caused and he still continued to swivel his head around to take in the audience reaction. I was earnestly hoping he had not eaten red beans and rice before court.
I composed myself somewhat and said, “Mr. Dedeaux I want you to know I believe every word you say, but look here fella we got a rule here in Gulfport. You are required to to swallow some Beno or GasX before you hop in a truck after you eat red beans and rice. Man, that stuff can be fatal. Now go pay that lady $40 bucks over there and remember in Gulfport DWF Driving while Farting is illegal.”
Justice was served once again.