Ansonia E Z Pass
Lawyers tend to spend much of our time looking for shortcuts, quick and easy ways to cut through and avoid the drudgery that infects much of our practices. And while the buzz of finding a successful shortcut doesn’t equal the more substantial satisfaction of, say, a trial victory or signing on a big client, it is, like a candy bar, an enjoyable quick fix that can lift the spirits and brighten the day.
I was reminded of this recently when I learned that Frank McQuade, the most senior of Assistant States Attorneys, had announced his retirement. I can’t remember when I first met Frank— it was many, many years ago—but I do recall a particular experience which, I’m sure, if he ever remembered, Frank has long since forgotten. It involved a shortcut and it happened in the original GA 5, then located in Ansonia.
Ansonia’s creaky City Hall was a three-story brick building that had, as they say, “character”. The most striking feature of the building was its circular stairway that wound around the interior of the building, leaving a wide atrium-type opening from floor to roof. The stairs were well worn and the banisters unsteady, more flexible than safe. There were, not surprisingly, no elevators.
Perched on the top floor was a rudimentary courtroom, too small by half, more cramped than intimate. It had a linoleum floor, two, maybe three, rows of spectator seats and a shaky rail that defined what passed for the well of the courtroom. The jury box was cramped. It sat an arm’s length away from a judges bench barely bigger than a nightstand, elevated just enough to command attention if not respect.
Adjoining the courtroom was a glorified closet that passed for the prosecutors’ office. There Frank McQuade, Irv Smirnoff and occasionally then-part-time prosecutor John Ronan met with lawyers and defendants prior to and during court to review files, discuss cases and iron out reduced charges, fines and penalties. There may have been chairs in that office, but I seem to remember always standing because there was no room to sit.
Usually presiding there was a kindly Ansonia native, Judge Joseph Chernauskas, a lovely man who customarily amplified the reading of rights with ominous warnings about the possibility of inclement weather.
This recollection is of one of my many trips to that court and how I learned there that developing shortcuts was essential to practicing law. It’s one of those four-court days where a delay at one venue guarantees a collection of angry judges and angrier clients at the three other locations where I am supposed to have been at 10:00. And of course it is a “motor vehicle” day. It seems that everyone in Shelton, Derby, Seymour and Beacon Falls with or without a valid driver’s permit has somehow been cited for moving violations requiring their appearance there on that day.
The line begins on the front steps of City Hall and stretches around and around all the way up to the prosecutor’s office on floor number three. Of course it isn’t moving. In those days they don’t take the lawyers first. So I join the line on the outside on the front steps and begin my wait. But I have things to do. Places to go. People, angry people, to see. All I need is a continuance and I can be on my way. A stinking little continuance.
Inching up the stairs, making it around the circular hallway to the next level is excruciating. And it gets slower, not faster. And the slower it gets, the more
agita I get.
All I need, really, is to have my file sent from the prosecutor’s office into the courtroom. Once it’s there I can bounce up, ask for a continuance, and take off. But I can’t get to the damn prosecutor’s office to get the file sent in.
I’m trapped. To cut the line risks a reenactment of the mayhem of the half-time brawl that highlights the Ansonia-Derby football game. I’m not about to risk that. The line inches forward and I am still far from Mecca. I sweat. I stew.
Now this is in the days before cell phones, probably before faxes, and, given the location, possibly before movable type. How can I get my file into Court for the simple continuance? If there ever is a need for a shortcut it is now. Finally, I make it to the second floor, still trapped.
I lean against the wall, grumbling. There is no relief for my predicament. No relief that is until we creep forward for about another foot and I bump into the public pay phone bolted to the wall. I knock the receiver off the cradle and, suddenly, inspiration strikes. I know how to solve my problem.
I grab the phone. First, I call my office. Then, having obtained from my secretary the number I need, I place a call to the prosecutor’s office approximately 17 feet above my head. Frank McQuade answers. My request is simple. And, Shazam! My file is delivered into the courtroom. I walk in. Judge Chernauskas grants my continuance. I am on my way.
I have won my release from Ansonia’s stairway prison and I walk away satisfied, knowing I devised a shortcut to beat the system.
Thank you, Mr. Mc Quade. Have a happy and healthy retirement.