45 years ago: my first time in a courtroom

courtroomOn Labor Day this year, I knew I was going to be going to jury duty the next day. That situation reminded me of a long-ago story, but the details were fuzzy. So I called a witness, who I’ll call Megan, who I had not spoken to in 40 years.

It was (probably) the fall of 1969. I was walking Megan home from high school, something that I seldom did. She was a relatively new person in my old neighborhood of the First Ward in Binghamton, for maybe a couple years, but she went to my junior high school, Daniel Dickinson, and lived near one of my friends I’d known since kindergarten.

I get to her house when this guy living next door, who I had never seen before, starts yelling racist remarks to me. It was my training from participating, and watching, civil rights marches just to ignore him. So I just walked away toward home, now oblivious to what he was saying, something Megan could see in my bearing.

Megan informed me this month that in fact he was declaring that, as a white man, he had a duty to protect the virtue of this young white woman (who wasn’t all white, but he didn’t know that) from me. To that end, he ran from, I believe, the back of his house and attacked me, mostly punching my body. He also knocked off my glasses, and I was scurrying around squinting to find them, while Megan screamed.

I found the glasses and retreated to Megan’s front porch, where Megan’s mother, who I barely knew if at all, came out and got into a war of words from the guy, his father, and some woman, yelling from their porch. I’m sure Megan’s mother used the term redneck – there was a car with Florida plates in their driveway – but Megan and I said nothing.

Someone had called the police, and I gave my account to an officer, Megan gave hers, and I suppose the Florida folks gave theirs. The details were fuzzy, but I filed a complaint.

A few days later, I was asked to come down to the judge’s office. He was trying to get me to withdraw my complaint, since it was, as he understood it, a “couple of guys fighting over a girl.” I noted that was NOT what happened, that this 23-year-old ex-Marine had assaulted me, unprovoked.

I went home, seething. I wrote a really angry note to the judge; I no longer remember the content. But I had no intention of actually mailing it. So my father, without my knowledge, took the letter and brought it to him; I was mortified, and even more so when the judge asked to see me again, as it turned out, to apologize to me.

There’s a trial. I’m not in the room when either Megan or her mother testified, presumably so I couldn’t crib their testimony. I testify; a more nerve-wracking event I had never experienced. Then the Florida clan spoke in turn, and their stories often contradicted each other in terms of who was where, et al.

I suppose you’d like to know how this case turned out; so would I. I had been told by either the judge or the district attorney’s office that I would be notified, but it never happened. Four and a half decades later, I still have no idea.

What I do know that the judge was up for re-election in 1971, the first year I could vote. I was at college, so I had an absentee ballot. The judge was running unopposed, so I wrote in my father’s name.

My jury duty this month: this story is relevant to that…

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