Still Learning — Part 2: The Conclusion
So there I stood, a prisoner in my own courthouse, locked in, no key, no phone, no way out, the wedding party two blocks away frothing in the heat, ready to tear my heart out. I frantically looked around searching for a way to escape.
In a moment of clarity I realized that I could go out the emergency exit on the west end of the hall, setting off a screaming alarm that blares as soon as the door is opened. But, I had no way to shut off the alarm once it began to scream. I could picture the neighbors calling the police to report a burglary at the courthouse, and envisioned myself being stopped by the police rushing past as I chugged along the sidewalk, robe and license in hand. “No, officer, really, I had nothing to do with a burglary at the courthouse! So what if my truck is in the parking lot and I am running away from the scene?” I imagined myself handcuffed and laid on the scorching sidewalk, my skin sizzling like bacon on the cement. I rejected that as an option.
Instead, I ran to the main doors and after an inspection finally figured out how to unlock the front door, but had no way to lock it again once I was outside. Concluding that it would be better to leave the door unlocked than the alarm screaming, since there is nothing to steal in the lobby anyway, I opened the door and rushed into the searing heat.
I headed directly west into the blazing sun with my fastest limping gait. I was soaked with sweat from my hair to my waist by the time I arrived at the Zalud House, fully expecting to be attacked and beaten bloody by the angry mob. Instead I found the bride and groom in work clothes, just beginning to set up tables and chairs, no other guests around. My phone calendar had been right. They expected to begin at 6:30, not 6:00. Apparently plans had changed since they filled out the information sheet, as even though it was almost 6:30, they said they would not be ready for another 45 minutes.
In a daze I laid down my robe and the license on a table and hurried back to the courthouse, leaving a trail of sweat drops sputtering into steam down the sidewalk. I went to the sheriff’s office next door, certain that they would have a key to let me into my chambers. The officer at the window searched for 20 minutes before concluding that they did not have a key. I asked if he could call one of the bailiffs, and he assured me that he would take care of it. He called his sergeant in Visalia, who then called a bailiff in Strathmore. She drove to the courthouse to let me into my chambers to retrieve my keys. I apologized profusely, but she was very nice about it and said it was no trouble for her.
Leaving her to lock up the courthouse, I drove my truck to the wedding and arrived to find everyone there waiting for me, only slightly perturbed that I had arrived a few minutes late. (Little did they know that I had actually been 45 minutes early.) I performed a nice ceremony — rather short, to the delight of everyone.
They all cheered and hugged the bride and groom, and we had a nice dinner of sandwiches and chips. All ended well, though I had cost a few sheriff’s officers some time to fix my mistake.
So did I learn my lesson about not acting precipitously? I now triple check my calendar to make sure I am not late for weddings. Thanks to those readers who offered to buy me a retractable key cable that hooks to my belt, but I now make a conscious effort to always put my keys back into my pocket after I use them. I may not lock myself into the courthouse again, but I doubt that I have seen my last struggle to extricate myself from a blunder.
Glade Roper is a Tulare County Superior Court Judge. He writes occasionally for The Recorder.