The Proceeding

By Anthony Perrotta

About two or three weeks ago, Patrick Longhurst committed a no-no in the eyes of the Law. Well, this was the Law’s story at least. Patrick, or Patsy, as his friends and family called him, had maintained his innocence since he received a letter in the mail from the proper authorities. He could’ve pleaded guilty right then and there, and accepted whatever followed. But, instead, his wished to fight the charges that he felt were unjust. So, the morning had finally come when he was due at the Hall of Justice by 11:00 a.m.

It was impossible for Patsy to sleep the night before. He kept tossing and turning, thinking about what he was going to say. Since he opened the envelope and read the incriminating statement inside, everything had become a blur. On the bright side, it wasn’t hard to get off from work. His boss had understood. But what didn’t sit well with Pasty was the tone in his boss’s voice. The pity he felt for his worker’s bleak situation was evident.

Patsy couldn’t eat that morning either. His stomach was tight and queasy. It felt like the first day of school, times a thousand. So, instead, he just paced around his apartment, checked himself over in the mirror, and rehearsed his key talking points. He hoped he would remember them all when the time came to plead his case.

When Patsy arrived at the Hall of Justice, it took him a moment to process the grand scale of the structure. It was symmetrical in form, and the Greek and Roman columns created a balance, an order, to the building’s façade. The accused man took one final look at the domed roof and pediment crowned entrances before heading up the stairs.

Once inside, Patsy wasn’t sure where to go. He timidly approached the first guard he saw and showed them the paper he got in the mail. The guard coldly directed him to the correct area.

Like the outside, everything on the inside appeared symmetrical. The rooms on opposite sides of the hall almost mirrored one another, while the rectangular rooms themselves created a gallery-like feel. As he recalled the directions given, Patsy noted the others who were summoned there as well. They wandered the halls, aimlessly. Patsy couldn’t tell if anxiety or apathy was responsible for their idleness.

When Patsy reached the right section, he saw he was only one of several others set to stand trial for presumably similar offenses.  Over time, a dozen or so others strolled in. Before Patsy knew it, they began calling people forward. After the first few, it was clear they were calling people alphabetically. Since Patsy’s last name started with an L, he had some time to sweat. However, he knew this was only delaying the inevitable. Just beyond the small archway was the hot seat, where he would be interrogated in front of a kangaroo court.

One by one, the other dissidents were called to the stand. Some admitted guilt without a fight, while others tried to defend their actions. Needless to say, their attempts were in vain. Guilt was dispensed like commodities off an assembly line. It was still difficult for Patsy to make out what anyone was saying, though. His heart raced and he felt short of breath. As he loosened his collar he could feel the sweat running down his neck.

When there was only one person left in front of him, Patsy’s senses kicked into overdrive. The air was stale. His mouth and throat were dry, and he ran his hand, back and forth, over the smooth, wooden chair. Although he wouldn’t actually do it, Patsy considered the consequences of just making a run for it.

This isn’t right, Patsy thought to himself. One shouldn’t feel this way. The Law is supposed to make us feel safe. Not intimidated.

“Mr. Longhurst,” someone uttered. Patsy’s heart sank. He thought he swallowed his tongue. “Mr. Longhurst,” the same voice repeated when he didn’t react quickly enough. “Please step forward.” Patsy nodded to the speaker—an older lady who must’ve been working under the Law for decades. Patsy’s legs wobbled as he got up from his chair. He could feel the other culprit’s eyes on him as he walked across the room and through the tight passageway, which led to the stand.

To his right was the judge’s podium. He looked down at Patsy, coldly, from his high vantage point. The prosecutor stood in front of the table that separated the defendant from the rest of the tribunal. He sorted through a set of reports as if they were part of the Sunday newspaper. There would be no sympathy from those two—figureheads for a system that bullies its own people.

But what surprised Patsy the most was the jury of six. What happened to twelve? Patsy wondered. They too displayed no compassion for the accused. How is it possible for anyone to have that little regard for a fellow citizen?

“The State vs. Patrick Longhurst,” the judge said before reading aloud the charges Patsy faced. He couldn’t listen. He already read them countless times from the letter he got in the mail. “How does the defendant plead?” the judge asked.

Patsy paused. He cleared his throat and managed the words, “Not guilty.” Patsy could just sense the judge, the prosecutor, and the jury all roll their eyes, for they had already determined his guilt.

The Law didn’t bother with an opening statement. They asked Patsy if he would like to make on, but he reserved his right to do so. The reason for this could’ve been because he didn’t want to give way his strategy in advance. But that wasn’t the truth. He didn’t have a strategy. All that preparation and all that pacing didn’t amount to much. He just sat there, frozen, before the tribunal.

The prosecution began their testimony. Had this not been such a pressing matter, their disorganization would’ve been comical. The prosecutor’s explanation of Patsy’s supposed wrongdoing was vague. The judge, of course, didn’t make any objections on the grounds that not enough detail was provided. The jury didn’t care either. Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea for Patsy to request a jury trial. He figured this would only help his case since some were likely to have been victimized in the same way.

The prosecution rested for the moment, giving Patsy the opportunity to present his view of what happened. He did his best to stay calm and composed. He pulled a folded up piece of paper from his jacket pocket and reviewed it for a moment. It contained short, handwritten sentences, detailing the unfortunate event to the best of Patsy’s knowledge. He went to speak but held back. This drivel isn’t going to save me, Patsy thought to himself. If I’m going to get out of this, my rebuttal needs to be genuine—from the heart.

Patsy folded his notes back up and stuffed them in his jacket pocket. He adjusted his blazer and let it all out.

“From the time I was a child, I was taught to respect authority and the rules of society; written and unwritten,” Patsy began, going back and forth between the judge and the prosecutor. “’Without them, everything would become lawless,’ my father always said. Whenever someone complained that the people who write our laws were out of touch, or just out for themselves, I would always come to their defense. ‘They might be hypocritical and overstep their bounds at times,’ I said, ‘but their intentions are noble.’ I always believed this, until recently. I think it’s a disgrace that this is what our great society has come to. We now put all our faith in a system where everything is stacked against regular people,” Patsy turned to the jury. “Look at you. You’re pathetic. As long as it’s not you up here, you don’t care. You laugh at others’ misfortune instead of wondering what it would be like if it was you going before the Law.” Patsy paused. “I have no proof to clear me of wrong doing because there was no wrongdoing. But it is your system that suggests I, along with countless others, have. Mark my words—this system that runs on the intimidation and persecution of its people for its own preservation cannot last.”

There was silence in the room. The first to speak was the judge. “Does the defense rest?” he asked while picking his head up from his palm.

“Yes, your honor,” Patsy said. “The defense rests.”

“I understand there is visual evidence,” the judge said to the prosecutor.

“Yes, there is, your honor.” The prosecutor turned to the small, tube television behind him. As soon as he pressed a single button, traffic footage was playing on the screen. Patsy knew the intersection it captured. It was just around the corner from his apartment. He recoiled in his chair. The video showed a mid-size hatchback making a right turn at a red light without coming to a full stop.

Mr. Longhurst,” the judge began, “was that or was that not your vehicle making an illegal right turn at the corner of Waverly Avenue and Gateway Boulevard?” Patsy began to stammer, uncontrollably. “License plate number: RJC9722,” the judge read aloud from a sheet of paper.

It was. Patsy had driven it here. It was parked just outside. Patsy stumbled once again. “Well, yes, but…”

The judge shook head as he requested the bailiff take the jury away. They returned within three minutes to announce they had found Patsy guilty. The other 2 minutes and 55 seconds must’ve been a courtesy. Patsy was ordered to pay a minor fine and walked out in shame. To paraphrase Sonny Curtis, Patrick Longhurst fought the law, and the law won.

 

Anthony is a filmmaker and writer. Born and raised on Long Island, New York, he earned his B.F.A. in Film/Video from Five Towns College. His short film, 21st Century Shuffle, premiered at the 2014 Big Apple Film Festival, and his writing has been featured on Dan’s Papers, PopMatters, ScreenPrism, and The Untitled Magazine-Online Edition. He can be reached at rotta1134@gmail.com.

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