[From the San Francisco Examiner, January 1969, by Jim Bishop.]
The judge leaned forward in his black robes, a crow in a lofty cage, and asked the defendant to rise. Dominick Ursola, 62, laborer, nudged by his lawyer, stood slowly, a small man with a drooping mustache and shoes caked with old concrete.
“How do you plead?” Judge Brown asked. Dominick looked to his lawyer. “Guilty of simple assault,” the counsel said quietly.
The assistant prosecutor, a small man with harried hands, got to his feet and said that the charge—with the court’s permission—had been reduced from felonious assault to simple assault, provided that the defendant would enter a plea of guilty.
“I’m not so sure the court acted properly in this case,” the judge said. “Mr. Ursola is a dangerous man to be at large. In any case, I will hear testimony.”
The first was Johnny, 14, big for his age. What had happened to the best of his recollection? Well, he and some other kids had seen the old man in the lots rooting around the garbage for salvageable items—metal and wire, he guessed—and the court ordered it stricken.
Anyway, Johnny and some kids thought they would tease the old man. They didn’t mean any harm. What had they done? “Well, we chucked a few stones at him.” And then what happened? The old man lost his temper and began to throw rocks at the children, yelling something in a foreign language. Had anyone been hit?
Johnny showed the judge the back of his head. He had been hit, and the hospital had taken three stitches in it. Next witness was Mrs. Cadis, Johnny’s mother. She said her boy had come home screaming, crying. When she saw the blood, she had almost fainted. A man like Ursola shouldn’t be allowed in a free society. This too was stricken from the record.
The defense placed Dominick Ursola on the stand. He stared almost tearfully at the judge and hung his head. His lawyer asked the simple, precise questions of the identification. Then he said: “Did it happen the way the boy said it did?” Dominick nodded. The clerk asked him to speak up. “Yes,” he said. “Yes.”
It was adduced that Mr. Ursola worked as a laborer for a building contractor. He had no skill and he earned $2 an hour. His wife—he pointed to her—had diabetes and he couldn’t afford the medication nor the doctor. So, in his spare time, he salvaged refuse and garbage.
When both sides rested the case, Judge Brown frowned. “I’m going to make an example of you, Ursola. You might have killed this child. The fact that he was wrong in throwing the stones does not mitigate your guilt in losing your temper. Before I pass sentence, has counsel anything to say?” The lawyer mumbled. “What?” the judge said. “What did you say?” The lawyer turned away and mumbled. “Will you speak up?” the judge said, getting red in the face. “I did,” the lawyer said, smiling. “Is it possible that the court’s hearing is defective?”
The judge almost got to his feet. “That’s enough out of you!” he roared. “One more remark like that and I’ll hold you in contempt.”
Counsel shook his head. “Judges are human,” he said softly. “They can go deaf and dumb.” The judge rapped his gavel so hard he almost broke it. “I will see you in chambers!” he shouted at the top of his lungs.
You see,” the lawyer said sweetly, “how easy it is to cause a fine judicial mind to lose its temper? How much easier for a troubled old man with boys throwing rocks at him.”
The judge sat back, his breath heaving. He maintained the attitude for some time. “Sentence suspended,” he said.
©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle