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I’ll let you be in my dream if I can be in yours. –Bob Dylan People fantasize about everything. The law is no exception. I close my eyes and the images flash in front of me like 1L Never-Never Land myths: Hearing 18 “accidentally” deleted minutes of tape in Nixon’s trial instead of a pardon for a case that had yet to exist … OJ testifying while the jury of the century stared at a picture of Nicole’s blackened eyes … Dubya being asked what cocaine smells like and how to wash it off an Armani … Gazing through the graffiti on the subway car’s window (Fyodor Lives!), I imagined the law without any lawyers. How would it work? You’d have to get rid of the money. If there’s no meat, there’re no sharks. I had to go to small claims court right then and catch the afternoon session. The first case involved one neighbor suing the other for the latter’s Doberman, Mookie, allegedly hopping the backyard fence into the plaintiff’s yard and destroying her prized rose garden. The plaintiff got the couple who lived on the other side of Mookie’s domain to testify that he had previously jumped into their backyard and destroyed their garden, despite their fence being higher than the one in question. The defendant was a sweet old lady out to free herself through her quaint sense of logic. “I’m going to do your job for you [the judge's eyebrows shot up], and prove my little Mookie can’t jump the fence.” She then introduced into evidence pictures of the plaintiff’s backyard — without Mookie in it. Plaintiffs 1, Defendants 0. The next plaintiff had just moved to New York and was suing to retrieve his $800 deposit from his would-be landlord. David had asked for his money back after a local friend informed him not to trust landlords who didn’t use leases. The day before he was to move in, David asked for a copy of the phantom lease. When refused, he then asked for his money back, for which he was also refused. The sleazelord did not issue a receipt, admitted the na�ve plaintiff. It seemed sleazeman was about to walk when his pride got in the way. (This wouldn’t be the first time he had gotten away with his scam.) He started talking too much, rambling, really. It was like a lawyer without the polish or sense or intuitive venom as he spilled how he had never got any money from the plaintiff; even if he had, nothing could be proved; even if anything could be proved, he couldn’t pay him back anyway because he had already spent it all. Plaintiffs 2, Defendants 0, with a promise by Judge Ruth Lenko that a call from housing authorities would come the following day. The next case grabbed all our attention off the bat. A mother was suing her live-in son, age 30, for not making his bed. She claimed his messiness had given her a nervous breakdown and that while making his bed one day, as she had every morning for the last three decades, she suddenly snapped. She was asking in a shaky voice for him to pay for the therapy he had driven her to. She came across as very sincere; I swear the man next to me ran into the hall with his cell phone to call his mom. The defendant had arrived late in the peak of slovenly fashion, sporting a three-day beard and three-year sneakers at the bottom of his K-Mart suit. He was counter-suing for harassment for the maximum allowable $5,000. When the judge asked how he had reached his figure, he was honest: “I figured you would give me the most if I asked for it.” The plaintiff began to cry in shame, apologizing for his pathetic conduct. She admitted she was suing because if she won, “that lazy bum” would be forced to get a job for the first time in his life. Plaintiffs 2, Defendants 1, with an admonition not to let the situation continue, but no money changed hands. I walked out feeling ecstatic. There was no showmanship, nothing slick. No Latin phrases or circuitous sentences. Everything was simple and straightforward and honest. Could the law really be like this? People were being themselves. No legal principles misapplied to mislead. No loopholes discovered for $500 an hour while the spirit of the law was broken like an old stick of stale gum. No accountants engineering manuevering room to misrepresent the seeming objectivity of numbers while millions wondered how their job security and retirement packages had collapsed. No PR organizations hired to mold future juries in anticipated trials (Martha). Litigants did not speak through lawyers who would have been arguing the opposite case had they been solicited by their adversary first. The people interfaced directly with the judge without the fetters of discovery, carefully plotted demographical jury selection or paid-off experts. It was like going back in time, to some fairy-tale past when the local townspeople came before the wise, even-keeled magistrate to plea their truth. This was the real process of one-on-one representative government. No disinterested jury would watch the clock or inspire theatrics from professionally passionate attorneys. No one would be outresourced. There would be no sophistry. My legal fantasy came true, and it startled my jaded impression of the big-money game I had come to know as the law. The law became a principle to live by instead of a tool to get what you want, whether it was money, revenge, or that shining illusion of power called Winning Big that dazzles us all. I felt as though we were all siblings, all of us, and the judge was this fair parent who really was deciding in the interests of fairness. She had no bias against anyone who was poor or stupid or unsophisticated or unpolished. She was not swayed by excuses. The case decided itself, and nothing else mattered. All the frustrations I was told to let go or perish from in law school were vindicated by this stern, short woman who was simply doing her job. Once the pace and scale of the law was slowed down, once peoples’ faces squeezed out from under the power system they had constructed in honor of faceless greatness, the law became something I never knew it could be: human. Free-lancer Mitch Artman, who lives and writes in New York, is a frequent contributor to law.com. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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