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Commentary: Disorder in the court

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 11, 2010 - The St. Louis County "adult abuse docket" is at once the best of times and the worst of times. It is the best of times in that, instead of shooting one another, the parties have chosen to ask a judge to help them solve their squabbles. It is the worst of times in that the parties have failed to solve by themselves what should be routine and manageable romantic, work, neighbor and coffee shop problems.

A couple of weeks ago a "scene" played out at one of these dockets. Two youngish women approached the bench. Perhaps they had quarreled over a boy. In any case, after some skillful mediation by Her Honor, the second young lady consented to a court order to stay away from the first young lady. At that point, these two citizens needed only to receive their papers and walk out the door.

The court has a protocol for receiving the papers and walking out the door. The party who has initially filed the case walks to the clerk's desk to receive her paper. She then walks through the back of the court room and leaves. Meanwhile the second party sits in the back of the court room for 10 minutes, presumably to allow the first party to get well away from the court house. Attentive readers will have noted that for Combatant No. 1 to get out she has to walk past Combatant No. 2.

In this case as Combatant No. 1 walked through the back of the court room Combatant No. 2 decided the wise move was to start screaming at her. Everyone in the court room froze - that is, everyone except Her Honor and the bailiff. I have been practicing law for 25 years and I have seen some judges who were mad, (including some judges who were mad at me), but I have never seen a judge as mad as this one.

Her Honor gave Combatant No. 2 a tongue lashing for the ages. Security had the "jewelry" out, (handcuffs for you non-law enforcement types). At the end of the tongue lashing, the judge made Combatant No. 2 sit in the jury box for a couple of hours but then eased up. The judge gave her one more solid chewing out and let her go.

What I find interesting is the decision by Combatant No. 2 to start an argument while still in the court room.

Call me an Old Fart - hell, I am an Old Fart - but I have concerns with that. Who was that young woman, and what could she possibly have been thinking? Are we going to turn this nation over to a generation with her brains?

Let's transfer our focus to urban entertainment districts on a Saturday night. Does a law abiding citizen out for dinner really feel safe? If we examine our consciences, are we not afraid of these kids with baggy pants, tattoos, leather and chains? Are we not worried we are surrounded by Combatant No. 2 types? Do we not sense that such types have no stake in the system and their time horizon is so short that they may think it wise to risk a few years in jail in exchange for a quick hold up?

If Combatant No. 2 cannot figure out that she needs to control her behavior at the adult abuse docket, what makes anyone think she will act in a courteous and respectful manner toward others when the pressure is high and she thinks no one is watching?

The decay of youngster behavior surely has many causes. (Be forewarned: I am heading toward blaming government programs). Causes likely include but are not limited to the failure of religion, constant exposure in the media to sex and violence, the idiotic drug war that takes the poor entrepreneur who should lead his people out of poverty and instead puts him in jail, and, perhaps of greatest significance, the collapse of the family.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the out of wedlock birth rates are 28 percent for whites, 52 percent for Hispanics and 72 percent for blacks. I freely admit that fathers tend to be jerks around the house, enforcing rules and showing limited tolerance for bad behavior, but someone has to counterbalance the nice moms.

In the absence of the Old Fart Father, who will handle the Old Fart Father role? And, of course, a single mom who has worked all day will be more likely to let the kids watch sex and violence on TV than to make them sit down for a family dinner. Thus is missed the chance to night by night, week by week. month by month, and year by year apply the thin veneer of civilization.

Here comes the "blame the government" par: I think government efforts to help the poor reduce personal responsibility and so lead to the kind of worrisome behavior I am talking about.

Consider the free and reduced lunch program. One can imagine the good intentions of those who started the program. They saw hungry poor kids. They responded with a way to feed them. Oops, Dad, who heretofore had to bring home a paycheck to assure that his kids could buy lunch, just became irrelevant. Once Dad is gone the kids' behavior deteriorates.

The left mocks the right's position that government programs actually harm the poor, but the right's position is not wrong just because the right thinks it is right. Combatant No. 2 is the product of this system.

We should end all these government welfare programs, make families responsible for themselves, and, as always, Trust the People.

Bevis Schock is an attorney in private practice in Clayton.