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Monday, October 24, 2016

Judge and the Hurricane

Disclaimer: Many of the stories are completely fictional.  Other stories are fictional accounts of true stories.  Other stories are completely true.  Sometimes the names have been changed to protect the innocent. This one is completely true.

Back when I worked for the first finance company, from time to time we had to take customers to court.  This was never fun.  We had to prove that we stayed within all the legal bounds with everything we did.  Many of our competitors tried to get around the law.

This particular company emphasized, “Not just the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law." This company taught that all our I-s had to be dotted and all of our T-s had to be crossed.  Before we took any customer to court, a member of the corporate legal team would look over all the paperwork to make sure it was in order.

When the local judge had more cases than he could handle, the county set up a new judge.  The original judge got to decide which companies he would keep in his jurisdiction.  We were the ONLY finance company he chose.

The judge still had more cases than could be tried by any one judge, so he asked the judge from a nearby town to hear some of his cases for him.  That is where I met “Uncle Ken”.

His real name was Kenneth.  He had once owned a finance company and knew all the tricks that some shady finance companies tried to pull.  He could see right away that I was not trained that way.  He even educated me even more in the ins and outs of the law as they pertained to finance companies. 

We got to be friends.  Even though he was my friend, I had no thoughts that he would rule in my favor when I was wrong.  When he did rule against me, he would tell me why.

Due to a change in economic situations, Suzanne and I had to move from our Deluxe Apartment in the Sky (really just your basic apartment) to an old house in a run-down part of town.

We were not able to pay the separation part of our rental agreement for the original apartment, so it was turned over to a collection agency.  The collection agency called me at work, which was completely legal in the State of South Carolina at that time.  However, this agent said, “Even though I can’t garnish your wages, I can garnish your checking account.”

I knew from my training that he could not legally do this.  But, just to assure myself, I called Ken.  Ken assured me that they could not do anything of the sort.  He went on to say that if they called again to try to record it and tell them to put it in writing.  Uncle Ken said, "If they will put that in writing so that you can show it to me, I will help you out completely.”

Well, even without the company putting it in writing, Uncle Ken sent the company a letter and I never heard another word from them again.  The amount was wiped off my credit file, too.

Later, I was working three jobs and Suzanne was working two.  We had never been affected by a hurricane before.  Hurricane Hugo was different.

I was delivering the newspaper.  Our son Jared was in the back seat.  Suzanne would have to leave for work before I would be back from throwing papers, so Jared went with me.

It was very windy and the rain was coming down in buckets.  I did not know I was in Hurricane Hugo.  I just knew that I had to get the papers out and that it was wet out there.

I would throw a paper out and it would get blown right back in with me.  I
was exhausted.  I pulled up to a bank of newspaper tubes and loaded one in each tube.  I turned around to the back seat, got another stack of newspapers, and checked to make sure that Jared was still in his seatbelt.

I started to drive across the road and up into a customer’s driveway to throw a paper.  Sometime between the time I left the tube and the time I crashed into an oak tree, I fell asleep.

When I woke up, I was face down on the steering wheel.  I sat up and left my teeth embedded in the steering wheel.  I felt them snap when I sat up.

I reached in the back seat and found Jared sitting up and awake.  I started walking from house to house trying to find someone who would let me use their phone.  I knocked on the doors of customers.  No one answered their door.  I walked up to a storm door where the interior door was open and a man and a woman were sitting at the table.  When I rung the bell, they both looked at me and Jared, but never came to the door.

I finally decided that no one was going to help us so, I started to walk to the closest pay phone I knew of, which was a few miles away. Not too terribly long into this walk, a young woman pulled up beside us and asked if we needed any help.

I told her we had a wreck and that I needed to find a phone.  She told us to get in the car.  When I told her that no one would answer the door for us, she said that she figured that I was probably not up to no good since I was carrying a baby, in the pouring rain, with blood all over me.

She took us to her parents’ house and I called Suzanne.  Suzanne came and took us to the hospital.  The hospital called the state patrol to report the accident.

We were treated and released from the hospital and then we went back to the scene and waited for the State Patrol.

All state troopers had been repositioned due to the hurricane.  The only one
in Anderson County was based in the small town where Uncle Ken was the normal sitting judge.

The trooper wrote up the accident and wrote me a ticket for too fast for conditions.

The trooper asked Jared, who was just over three years old, where he had been sitting in the car.  Jared pointed in the back seat.  The trooper asked Jared if he had been in his seatbelt.  Jared told him he had been in it.

The trooper asked Jared how he got out of his seatbelt.  Jared told him, “A light came down and undid my seatbelt.”  The trooper asked Jared to repeat that.  He did.

The trooper asked me if Jared had been sitting in the rear driver’s side seat.  I told him, yes.  He then asked if Jared had been wearing his seatbelt.  Again, I answered, "Yes."

The trooper then showed us that where Jared had been sitting had been cut in two by some mailbox posts I had in the back seat of the car for installing paper tubes.  If Jared had remained in his seatbelt, he would have been decapitated.  There was no doubt about it.

I was positive Jared had been in his seatbelt when I turned around to get another bundle of papers.

I was ordered to appear in court.  I had no choice.  I was hoping the charges would be dropped because I could not afford the fine or the added cost to my insurance.

Uncle Ken was the presiding judge. When I walked into the courtroom, I noticed that Uncle Ken and the state trooper were sitting up at his regular desk, not the judge bench, laughing and bull corning.

When I approached the desk, Uncle Ken invited me to sit down.  He introduced the state trooper as his son-in-law.  I joked and asked, “Should I have brought my own rope for the hanging?”  Uncle Ken laughed.  He had the reputation of always being fair.  He complied with the letter and the spirit of the law.  I had no doubt that I would be given a fair trial.

His record was that he had ruled against his son-in-law about as many times as he had ruled in his favor, and that if a case was not cut and dried, he would recuse himself.  He asked if I wanted him to refer this matter to a different venue.  I told him no.  I said, “I am sure you will give me a fair trial before you hang me.”  Both Judge and trooper laughed.

We sat around the desk and talked.  The only ones present were Judge Ken, State Trooper/son-in-law, and me. The judge had a pitcher of sweet tea with ice in it on his desk.  He had several clean glasses.  He offered me some tea.  I told him that I am a diabetic and could not have the sugar.  He got a can of diet Coke out of his refrigerator and gave that to me.  Remember, this is a very small southern town.

I told the judge that there was no doubt I hit the tree.  I told him that I fell asleep.  I asked that he drop the charge of driving too fast for conditions since I was practically crawling at the time of impact.  The judge said, “You was driving too fast for conditions.  The condition was you was asleep.”  I agreed with that, but told him that if that charge remained, I would not be able to afford my insurance. I told him I definitely could not afford a fine of any size.

When the judge said something, he meant exactly what he said.  So, I knew how to handle the next part.

The judge said, "I tell you what I am going to do, David.  If you leave my courtroom without saying another word, I will drop all charges.  But, if you say just one more word, the charges remain, the fine remains, and the points against your license remain. Is that clear?”

Remember, I knew this judge.  When he said "not another word", that is EXACTLY what he meant.  I stood up, nodded to Uncle Ken and his son-in-law, and left.  I knew not to say yes.  I knew not to say thank you.  I knew this judge. 

A few days later, I called Uncle Ken.  He told me everything was clear and that my insurance should remain the same.  The ticket had been converted to a warning ticket and there was no fine. Thanks, Uncle Ken.

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  1. That is an incredible story, I am glad everything worked out.

    1. Thank you. I am glad it did, too. I could not afford a rope for the hangin' at the time.


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