Meridian city court deserves better
By By Suzanne Monk / Managing Editor
May 19, 2002
I was in Meridian Municipal Court the other day to watch a DUI trial that made news because of the defendant's prominence in the community and the unusual ramifications of his arrest. Since I was already there, I decided to stay for part of the morning to see the court in operation.
I came away with the same disconnected feeling as I have in the past, on the few occasions when I covered misdemeanor trials.
The thing that always puzzles me is that Meridian's city court does not feel like a courtroom. Rooms where justice is administered don't necessarily have to be imposing, but they should inspire a feeling of respect for the legal process and the judge.
City court feels more like study hall.
A lot of it has to do with the furniture and the architecture of the room. The same room at the police station functions as both the Meridian City Council chambers and the city courtroom.
Judge Lester Williamson Jr. sits behind a portable bench set on top of a long pink counter. Instead of being the most prominent figure in the room, his brow is barely visible above the top of the bench. Nothing he says is audible from more than about 10 feet away.
If the judge could be seen and heard, the courtroom would have a focal point. Basic manners and respect for a judge's black robe would probably prevent the buzz of chatter that prevails instead.
Is this really a problem?
None of this is a really big deal, I guess, except I can't help but believe it has an undesired effect on defendants. We're taught in school that breaking the law is a serious matter and municipal court is where punishment is handed down in Meridian's misdemeanor cases.
What lesson can you expect a man arrested for, say, domestic abuse to take away under these circumstances? He receives his sentence from a judge he looks down on, physically, while nobody in the courtroom pays attention. He gets his paperwork stamped just down the counter, throws a smile at a friend, collects his wife waiting in the spectator section and strides out.
Court appearances are not supposed to be easy. You're supposed to feel exposed and embarrassed. It's part of the system's deterrent effect.
I could be wrong
I will also admit, however, that I am opinionated about courtroom atmosphere and protocol. It shows in the kinds of stories I think are important and choose to write for The Meridian Star.
I want courts to be overtly respected as symbols of one of the things that sets this country apart from many others, where "justice" is either openly sneered at or viewed as a saleable commodity. I want judges to be overtly respected as links to both the U.S. Constitution and a much older Judeo-Christian culture.
If I'm not completely off-base, if Meridian Municipal Court could be improved, the solutions are practical. A change of attitude. A bigger, higher and permanent bench for the judge. A couple of microphones.
But, at the very bottom of it all, I simply think Judge Lester Williamson Jr. deserves better.