by Justice William W. Bedsworth1
We all have pet peeves. Judges are no different.1
Judge Bill Mock was a stickler for punctuality. If you were late to his court, he would take the bench, put the jury in the box, have counsel and parties take their places at the counsel table, and all would sit and wait until the offending attorney showed up. Terminating sanctions would hardly have been more effective.
For Bill Thomson, it was important that you looked like an attorney at all times. I wandered into his courtroom a few minutes before noon one day to go to lunch with another prosecutor who was trying a case there. I sat in the audience until the lunch break, at which time Judge Thomson’s bailiff handed me a note from the judge saying if I ever came into his court again without a coat, I’d be held in contempt.
We had another judge who would come unhinged if you uttered the words “at this point in time.” He was irked by that particular circumlocution and would often interrupt counsel by pointing out that words like “then” and “now” were less pretentious and saved everyone time.2
If you do it in the wrong court, you can still lose a hand if you put it into your pocket—especially if it hits your car keys. And if your phone rings, you’re lucky if all you lose is the phone.
I have several colleagues who object to the phrase “with all due respect.” They feel the unspoken subtext when you say that to a judge is, “which in this case is not very much.” You’d be well-advised to delete that phrase from your vocabulary if you aren’t buying Kevlar suits.
My own biggest stressor is people talking on their cellphones while they drive. I consider it a statement that my safety is not as important as whatever it is they’re talking about and it irritates the hell out of me.
I will never be able to own a gun as long as there are people talking on cellphones while driving—because I would sure as shootin’ try to put a bullet in someone’s engine block if I had a gun.
My wife’s pet peeve is littering. Kelly’s younger than I and has better impulse control, but it’s just a matter of time before she goes off on somebody. I fully expect to witness a citizen’s arrest that includes a hammerlock and a Miranda advisement someday when someone throws a cigarette or a candy wrapper out their window in front of her.
The first automobile manufacturer who comes out with an SUV that can be equipped with a bullhorn and lightbar will sell one to Kelly. At whatever price they choose.
Apparently Europeans feel the same way. According to the BBC, police received over a million complaints last year about “fly-tipping.”
This is a crime I was unfamiliar with. Twenty-five years in the criminal courts of California and twenty-three years more hearing criminal appeals and I had never heard of fly-tipping.
Turns out the term comes from the phrase “on the fly,” meaning doing something quickly, often while preoccupied with something else. Fly-tipping refers to blithely tossing your trash onto someone else’s property.
So now go back two paragraphs and think about British police receiving a million complaints about fly-tipping last year. A million times, people cared enough about this to call the police.
My wife has never called the police and reported a litterer. As angry as she has been, as many times as she has cursed them, yelled at them, and wished them bad fortune, she has never called the police. Imagine how upset you have to be to call the police.
And then recall that happened a million times in Great Britain last year. And that million represent only the leafy part of the carrot.3 Most people aren’t going to do that. If you got a million complaints, it probably happened five million times.4
This despite the fact the UK spent almost 75 million pounds last year on enforcement and clean-up. Criminy, you could almost hire a reserve second-baseman for that kind of money. And violations carry a maximum penalty of a year in the slammer and a 50,000 pound fine.
And still they can’t get people to stop dumping their trash on each other’s property. This seems like a good time for me to voice once again my belief that evolution peaked on July 2, 1964, with the signing of the Civil Rights Act. We’ve been going downhill ever since.
I’m amazed the Brits spend as much as they do. Kelly and a flamethrower could eliminate the problem for a lot less than 75 million pounds. In fact, if they gave her immunity and paid for the flamethrower, she’d probably pay them.
Or they could just take a cue from the Spaniards.
If you coax your search engine to retrieve “refrigerator thrown into canyon” or “guardia refrigerator cliff” or some such equivalent, you will find a videotape of a man in Spain laughing as he tosses a refrigerator into a canyon. He says he’s “recycling” it, and he finds it pretty funny.
If you keep watching, you’ll see another video. This one shows two men pulling the refrigerator back up OUT OF THE CANYON. One of them is the guy from the first video. It’s a steep canyon, and the fridge went a lo-o-o-o-ng ways down before coming to rest.
Seems Spanish police tracked down the guy who “recycled” his fridge in the canyon. It wasn’t that hard; he posted video of the incident on social media and the video clearly displayed his license number, which brings us back to my evolution argument.
Anyway, when they caught him, they not only fined him FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS5 but ordered him to drag the fridge back up out of the canyon—by hand—and properly dispose of it. The Spanish police filmed him and a friend lugging the fridge back up the canyon and posted it on their social media site.
The Spanish judicial system is, of course, different than ours. For one thing, it apparently has no Eighth Amendment.
I mean, this guy wasn’t spearing papers by the side of the road; he was roping down into a canyon. If you don’t hunt down the video, you’ll just have to imagine this guy hauling a refrigerator up the wall of a steep canyon in the Spanish sun. And then fishing $50,000 out of his pocket to pay the fine.
While my wife has no problem with this6—and a large part of me wants to join her in the cheering—I’m afraid 50K and a death-defying refrigerator climb seems like a lot to me. Most of the people I’d like to punish like that are in Congress. Or some other street gang.
But I suspect punishment like this will greatly reduce the need for the Guardia to enforce their fly-tipping laws. A few more videos of guys hauling refrigerators out of canyons and they’ll be able to save the 75 million pounds the Brits spent.
And they won’t have to give my wife a flamethrower.
William W. Bedsworth is an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. He writes this column to get it out of his system. A Criminal Waste of Space won Best Column in California in 2018 from the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA). And look for his latest book, Lawyers, Gubs, and Monkeys, through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Vandeplas Publishing. He can be contacted at email@example.com.