Orphan Survival Stories Index |
JUDGE vs. TURKEY
The Administrative Law Judge was late for the hearing and we were hanging around in the hallway at the Stanislaus County Welfare Office discussing whether or not the county would call the police on us for arguing with the judge again. When the judge finally arrived, we entered the small side room, which had been set up for the hearing and took our positions at the various tables.
My client was a thin, kind faced, older man accused of drinking a beer with his meal while on his one-hour lunch break. The Salvation Army had then fired him. Being fired caused him to lose his food stamps and the small check he received each month from the county welfare system.
As the hearing began, the first person took the witness stand. I could hardly believe the heartlessness of the woman who had fired this kind faced old gentleman. She went on and on and on about how disgusting this man was, and how dangerous he was to himself and to everyone in the building working with him. She told the court he was slow in getting up and down the stairs, and needed to be reminded almost every day when it was time for him to go home.
Finally, I got my chance to question the snooty old bag. The first thing I asked her was if she had ever had a drink with her meal while on her lunch break. She was very quiet, as though she did not want to answer the question. Then she finally said, "I never drink beer."
"That is not what I asked you. I asked you if you had ever had a drink while eating a meal."
"Yes, I have a wine with my lunch almost every day," she replied in a harsh tone.
Then why is it wrong for this gentleman to have a beer with his lunch? I asked.
"Because people who drink beer are alcoholics and lowlifes," she told the court.
"Then that must make you a wine-o, I blurted out.
Of course, the judge jumped me right then and there. He told me to tone down my comments and keep my personal opinions to myself.
At that point in the hearing, the woman tried to change things around; she told the court the real reason she fired the old man was not because he drank a beer. It was because the old man was a danger to himself and to everyone working at their facility. She said the old man was psychotic, depressing, and that he could possibly hurt someone if allowed to stay on the job.
The judge called for a recess and we retired for a one-hour lunch break. I immediately drove over to the Salvation Army office and asked to see the old man's employment file, which the secretary denied me. She said I would have to request that information from the supervisor, who was presently appearing in court and she would not be back until after court was over.
I asked the secretary her personal opinion of the old man. She said he was one of the kindest, sweetest and most gentle human beings she had ever met. I then asked her why the old man had been fired, if he was so nice and kind. She told me, off the record, that the old man had taken several old mattresses from the dumpster. They were pee stained, and he had given them to a woman and her two small children, because they could not afford the mattresses on the showroom floor. I could not understand why he would be fired for such a random act of kindness. I was told that it was against the law for any mattress to be sold, unless it had been autoclaved and sterilized.
I understood what the woman was telling me. However, these mattresses were not sold. They were given away. Therefore, this would lead me to believe this was a matter of the Salvation Army losing a sale and this supervisor was upset about that more than anything. I also told her that the old man was going to be tossed out onto the street, if we did not win this case. She got up from her desk and told me that there was nothing more she could do. She walked over to the file cabinet and took out a file, laid it on the desk, and walked out the office door telling me that she would return in about 10 minutes. When I looked down, I saw that the file belonged to the old man. I read it over as quickly as I could and noted the man had been working at the facility for about four years. He was a hard worker and had been known for spending his own money on those who were in need, even though he himself had very little. Before leaving, I noticed something very important in this file, which I removed (stole, if you wish) and stuck in my coat pocket.
The hearing resumed at 1:00 p.m., the woman once again took the stand and I began to question her.
"So what you are telling this court is, the real reason you fired this gentleman is not because he had a beer with his lunch, but because he is a danger to himself, his work place and all who work there with him. Is that correct?"
"That is correct, said the woman.
"What makes you think he is a danger at the work place? I asked.
"Because I have had to take pencils away from him for fear he might stab himself or somebody else on the job.
"Why would he want to do that?
"Because, as I said, he is a psychotic alcoholic and he cannot follow directions. He is just an old man, she said.
I walked over to my coat hanging on the back of my chair, reached into the pocket, took out a piece of paper and began to unfold it.
"So what you are saying is that you dismissed this man because he is old, drinks beer and will probably kill someone on the job one day. Is that correct?
"Yes, that is why I fired him," she told the court.
I turned toward the Judge and held up the front page of the Modesto Bee Newspaper. On the front page was a picture about 8 X 10 inches in size. I turned the newspaper toward the woman sitting on the stand and asked her, "Is this the man that we are talking about?"
She just sat there not saying a word.
Once again turning towards the judge, I showed him the front page of the newspaper. The large picture showed this same woman smiling from ear to ear, while handing my client a large three-foot carving knife and fork. Both were standing in front of a long line of about 200 people, preparing to carve up 50 or so turkeys to feed the poor and homeless in Modesto on Thanksgiving Day.
I turned to the court and said, "Your Honor, I believe this vicious killer has a partner in this crime."
The judge looked directly at me, winked, smiled and said, "I think I have seen enough.
He then dismissed the entire case after reinstating the old man's right to receive his small check and food stamps from the county. I will never forget that case or that old man for as long as I live. He was just a kind old man sitting there in the courtroom being talked about as though he was nothing more than an animal. All the while, he kept smiling kindly at everyone.
Though I spent most of my young life in an orphanage, reform school, jail and finally prison, I have always loved and respected the law. I just wish things could have been different for me as a young man. I know inside myself that if Id had the chance to go to college, I could have grown up to be the kind of lawyer that could give the law 'a heart.'