Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Everyday Life: Raise the Bar for the Bench Mid July, I had the opportunity to attend a CLE course that was being held at the Alexandria Courthouse at 520 King Street. Doing almost all of my business for the past five years in Fairfax County, it had been awhile since I paid my local Circuit Court a visit. What I found shocked me.
First, the parking. After circling blocks and blocks for almost half an hour, I landed a freebie three hour space in the vicinity of South Columbus and Wolfe. The hunt left me wondering: why not convert more of the two hour parking, metered or not, to allow for an additional hour? It would make business sense; more time spent could equal more money spent in the quaint shops; in these economic times, vehicle turnover is less important than acknowledging an effort to patronize. Any related lost quarters and dimes would be more than offset by an increase in sales tax revenues and a reduction in the number of officers needed to patrol Old Town, and otherwise, perhaps freeing the police up to address something other than parking infractions in other parts of the city. Just a thought...
The courthouse. After going through security, my obvious first stop was a bathroom. I was appalled to see that the latches on at least one stall door in at least one Ladies' Room were inoperable. Note to City: women prefer do their "business" in private; we aren't anywhere close to the point in gender equality where a quasi urinal situation is in vogue. Being locked in also makes us feel safe, particularly when the other two doors to the lavatory are either open or not of the bolted variety. Just in case your efforts at the main door fail and allow some weirdo in, because there's plenty of room for a nut job to hide in the relatively large space between the handicapped facility and the interior wall...
Up to the 4th floor, Circuit Courtroom #2, where the program was being held. While waiting for the doors to open, I sat on one of those wooden benches that are built into the peripheral wall. Ouch. Ditto for the bulk of the seating in the courtroom. However historic they may be, I've sat in more comfortable church pews, where I get to stand and kneel as well, and am accustomed to the comfy cushions of Fairfax. It wouldn't be spoiling Alexandrians to replace these "seats of justice" with something that doesn't send them to the chiropractor or a massage or physical therapist. Auction them off; because of their lineage, they will bring in some serious bucks and pay for their replacements...and more.
Because from the looks of things, the City needs money. The clock in the courtroom - missing, although the connective wiring was conspicuously hanging out of its former home. Ugly, in a setting known for decorum. Doesn't anyone in the City's employ get those ubiquitous Bed Bath & Beyond coupons? If not, I have some to spare. Use them to purchase a battery powered unit to mount over the gaping hole. Court sessions should be run on synchronized time and not be subject to the whims of a judge's internal tick tocks. I'm sure those sitting on those hard benches are counting the minutes on their watches anyway, as I did for the two hours I spent squirming for an elusive spot of repose.
The microphones - not operational. Yes, the courtroom is relatively small and cozy, and judging from the attendance at the seminar, mostly men with deep, booming voices still inhabit it, but hey, the trend is for more women lawyers, who typically have high pitched, thin voices that don't carry well. It would be nice if in a court of law we could be heard as well. It's time to welcome someone other than "Mike" with open arms.
While I have tried to make this a humorous rendition of my everyday life, the situation I am describing is not. Given the nature of the ongoing and planned projects, Alexandria appears to be focused on externals and facades - revitalizing this neighborhood, widening that road - broad strokes and big splashes. I'm a practical girl; the things I most noticed on my recent trip in from the West End were the missing and mundane details. A courthouse is one of the places where a city makes its first impression. In dire times, it is important to take care to maintain what you already have. And sometimes, yes sometimes, it's what's inside that counts.

Karen Ann DeLuca