There was a time, not so long ago, when those who labored in the rudimentary vineyards of our GA courts---lawyers, judges and prosecutors---were gifted with the ability to distinguish among the various types of cases that fill the dockets of those environs. When exercised wisely, that ability often resulted in one of those rare win-win situations where everyone walks away satisfied, knowing all have been treated well and the right result achieved.
I was reminded of this recently as I watched a case before Judge Tom O'Keefe in GA 9 in Middletown. George Firko, the Assistant State's Attorney, calls a motor vehicle case. The defendant's name is unusual, difficult to pronounce and foreign-sounding. Sure enough, a frightened, slightly-built, wide-eyed man of undetermined age hesitantly enters the well of the court. He is accompanied by a near-twin, similar in appearance and equally ill-at-ease. The two men stand side-by-side, shifting uneasily before Judge O'Keefe.
"Which one is the defendant?" asks the Judge. Firko tells O'Keefe the defendant is the man on the left. The other gentleman, he says is the defendant's brother-in-law. "Where are you from?" asks the Judge. Both respond in unison, "Bangladesh".
"OK. What are the charges?"
Firko informs the judge the gentleman is charged with Evading Responsibility and Disobeying a Traffic Signal. "There was a minor accident, Judge. The defendant told me what happened and it's something I can identify with. He went through a red light and grazed another car. His child got scared and started crying. He got upset, drove a short distance away and then stopped. He's fully insured. We're going to drop the Evading charge and he's going to plead to running the light. The State is going to recommend a $35 fine."
"OK", says O'Keefe. "Is that what happened? You want to plead guilty to running the red light and pay a $35 fine?" The defendant, still somewhat mystified, agrees.
"All right", says the Judge. "$35 fine. No costs. You can pay that at the clerk's office on your way out. " The defendant and his escort turn to leave. "Oh, by the way," says O'Keefe, "I have to tell you about a tradition we have in this country. In America, the brother-in-law always pays the fine." The pair stops in mid- stride. "No. I'm only kidding. Have a nice day and good luck to both of you."
They both smile, then leave, obviously relieved and hopefully knowing they have already had a good day and part of the luck they experienced was a decent prosecutor and a sensitive judge who had made a potentially terrifying experience painless and fair.
A win-win for everyone.