I had to deliver some papers to my attorney while she was at court Tuesday morning. That wasn’t the first time I’ve been in the courthouse, but it’s the first time I fully appreciated what an interesting place it is (well, it is if you’re not there on charges).
There is always a fairly sizeable audience when General Sessions is happening. Some of the people waiting in the audience are people waiting to answer their charges; the rest are friends and family members there for moral support. There is an unnatural quietness for such a full, busy room. You can almost feel the tension and nervousness.
At tables in the corners, and outside the courtroom in hallways and stairwells, attorneys sit or stand with their clients, heads close together, whispering explanations or discussing options.
A wooden rail, not quite waist-high, separates the audience from the court business. The judge sits high on the bench, keeping an eye on everything and everyone–like a hawk perched on an electric line, surveying a field.
In front of him lawyers mill around, whispering in each other’s ears, gesturing with their hands, trying to strike a deal for their clients. Along one side is what probably serves as a jury box for jury trials, but during General Sessions it contains half-a-dozen or more city and county cops and State Troopers, there to give testimony about what they saw when they stopped so-and-so, or when they responded to a domestic situation.
Sometimes people are called from the audience, and sometimes they appear through a door behind the bench, shackled and dressed in oversized, dingy green- or pink-striped uniforms. They rather resemble hospital scrubs, but of a heavy cotton; the green stripes, in particular, make them look as if they have a part in some Christmas play.
If you are ever stuck for something to write about, or if you feel that your characters are lifeless and lack emotion, go to your county’s courthouse and sit in the audience and observe. There are as many stories as there are people participating in the scene, and everyone’s emotions are quite acute.