Order in the Court

Author’s Note: Names have been changed or omitted to protect the foolish.

Many people are most accustomed to a grandiose vision of a courtroom, rich mahogany panels, distinguished black-robed judges, lawyers in freshly pressed suits and ties and police officers in crisp class A uniforms. On a daily basis, the reality was something entirely different—especially during the late 60’s and 70’s at the Cook County Criminal Court at 2600 South California on Chicago’s near south side.

Branch 57 was Narcotics Court and most mornings it was a zoo. Preliminary hearings were held here for the overnight arrests. Many of the officers in court had spent the previous hours working, or if not, they were short on sleep, having drawn the short straw on who was going to attend court.

Street uniforms were the order of the day, often soiled and dusty with the flotsam and jetsam that accumulates during a tour of duty on the streets of Chicago. No trials were held here, the judge listened to the circumstances of the arrest and rendered a decision as to whether or not the defendant should be held for trial.

The judge was a character who stood and walked more than he sat. His robe was seldom closed and when he gestured, wildly at times, it would fly open revealing an unkempt open collared shirt. He drank his coffee during the proceedings, but the cup always had a tight lid lest the hot liquid spill while he was flailing his arms.

George Grady, the state’s attorney was a sharp young man who would later also become a judge. He was not afraid to argue his point with great enthusiasm.

He guided one officer through the circumstances of his case:

“What was the nature of the call officer?”

“It was a man with a gun in the pool hall.”

“And will you tell the court what you found when you arrived on the scene?”

“Well we did not find a man with a gun, but we observed the defendant coming out of the men’s room.”

“And then what did you do?”

“We patted down his outer clothing and felt a suspicious bulge in his trouser pocket.”

“And did you have an occasion to determine what the bulge was?” asked Grady.

“”Yes sir,” replied the officer. “It was what is known on the street as a nickel bag of marijuana.”

“The state rests your honor.”

“That’s it?” asked the judge spreading his arms apart. “That’s all you’re going to give me?”

“I said the state rests judge.”

“Then I say no probable cause. That’s an illegal search.”

“Your honor! How can you say that?” responded Grady raising his voice. “They were responding to a man with a gun call!”

“You mean to tell me, Mister Grady, that if the police received a call of a man with a gun in this courtroom, they could search everybody?” The judge was shouting now, walking and waving, his robe flying.

“No, of course not, that’s different.”

“Then tell me Mister Grady,” still shouting. “What’s the difference between this courtroom and a pool hall?”

“Very little your honor—very little!”

The judge stopped in mid stride and whirled to face the state’s attorney. He paused a moment as laughter rippled through the courtroom and then he joined the laughter.

“Point taken Mister Grady, I guess I asked for that, but the case is dismissed.”

* * * *

In another courtroom and defendant had been found guilty of burglary and the judge sentenced him to two years in the Vandalia Correctional Center.

“But your honor,” protested the defendant. “Today is my birthday. It’s not right to sentence someone to prison on their birthday!”

The judge turned to the state’s attorney.

“Is that right? Is today his birthday?”

The state’s attorney paged through the arrest records.

“Yes, your honor, today is his 18th birthday.”

The judge rose. The odd conversation had captured the spectator’s attention. Would the judge even consider modifying the sentence based upon the fact that it was the defendant’s birthday? All eyes were on the judge as, still standing, he leaned over the rail toward the young man and began to sing in a rich baritone:

“Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Two years in Vandalia,
Happy Birthday to you!”

* * * *

It was a summertime homicide trial in the same building. We were on one of the upper floors and the heat was nearly suffocating. Two large fans ran in a vain attempt to cool the participants. I was on the stand and after questions from both the prosecutor and the defense attorneys, the judge stopped me as I was about to step down.

“Be seated detective,” he said. “I want to ask you a question”

I turned in my seat and for the first time I had a full view of him and it was a sight to behold. The judge had hiked his robe up to his waist, rolled his pants above his knees and his socks down to his shoes. His knees were widely spread and he was fanning his lower body with the morning paper.

I don’t remember what his question was, nor do I remember what I answered. But when I returned to my seat and looked back at him, he was a picture of dignity and decorum —at least from the waist up.

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31 Comments on “Order in the Court”

  1. Priceless, just priceless. Branch 57 was always worth the show if you didn’t have to stay too long. Couldn’t tell the shysters from their clients.

  2. Dave Sandlund says:

    So many great times at 26th and California in my young days, I fondly remember Branch 42-2 and Judge Sulski since most of my career was as a burglary detective. Great job with your writing ability and I hope to see a movie with your writings someday.

  3. Darlene says:

    Hysterical.

  4. Christopher H Karney says:

    at least he wasn’t at 11th Street Coury sentencing the drunks being held overnight to death, like that one Judge (the name escapes me) used to do

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  5. Tom Rosati says:

    Great stories, Jim. Mike Holub hooked me up with your site. Can’t wait for your book. Retired cop myself. Saw some 26th and Cal antics when I worked for Cook County fro 1993 to 2008. Did 21 years with Lyons PD also. God Bless brother.

    • jimpadar says:

      Thanks for reading Tom. The book should be released in early December. Keep up with the latest regarding a book launch party at http://www.OnBeingACop.com

      • Rob Zanussi, Red Deer, AB says:

        Can we pre-order? Get an autographed copy?

      • jimpadar says:

        Absolutely! We are in the process of setting up a pre-order procedure on our web site at a special reduced introductory price. Our full web site is expected to go live early next month (November) for pre-orders, shipping, and mailing the first week in December. If you subscribe with your email at the book web site (www.OnBeingACop.com) we will send you all the latest information as it becomes available.
        Thanks for asking!

  6. phil sangirardi cpd retired says:

    good read Jim, remember he Sgt who played Judge and released all of the bums before the real Judge took the bench. waiting for the book.

  7. Tom Davy says:

    Since names have been omitted I won’t name the Br. 57 judge, but he was a good honest man as well as being a character. He would on occasion grant a motion to suppress a search warrant that he himself had approved. During the late 60’s-early 70’s on bond criminal cases were heard at the Daley Center because of overcrowding at 26th Street. He had two ASAs when he was there who were also characters. One would be trying a case in the courtroom while the other was in the side room. At least one time the ASA in the sideroom objected to a question his partner asked. The judge most likely waited for the PD to join the objection before ruling, but maybe not. It’s a different world now. Looking forward to the book.

    • jimpadar says:

      When I wrote this trilogy of stories, I decided not to use any names to avoid any embarrassment to the judges I was writing about. But Judge Kenneth Wendt deserves to be mentioned by name.

      Branch 57 Judge Ken Wendt was a character, a good judge, and a good man. I often thought he would be a great guy to have a few beers with, although unfortunately I never had the opportunity. I believe he passed away in 1982. His daughter, Mary Jane Theis is a Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court. He would be very proud.

      As a homicide detective, I was in his chambers on several occasions to get murder arrest warrants. When the warrant officer asked me to raise my hand to swear to the affidavit, Wendt would raise his hand. “Not you Judge… him!” he would say pointing to me. It was a line repeated many times, but we always laughed. Good memories of a good man.

      The book will go on pre-sale next month. Stay tuned for further information or sign up for news via email at http://www.OnBeingACop.com

      • Bob Stanton says:

        Judge Wendt was a good man. As I pre-law student I would often hang out in his courtroom in what is now the Daley Center. He was always supportive. He was criticized by some for his lenient sentences but I saw him sentence a rapist to 25 years and child molester to 30 years. He was a great guy to have a few beers with, this was in the early seventies when Illinois lowered the drinking age to 18.

  8. Tom says:

    Be. 57, I remember guys bringing their dates there after partying all night. It was a love hate thing for me. I hated going there but loved watching the circus. Great memories Jim, thanks.

  9. Barry Felcher, NBC5News, retired says:

    Jim,
    Wonderful story, as always. Judges — they are really something. In 1966 while working as a reporter for the City News Bureau, I was issued a ticket for making an illegal left turn onto Lincoln Av. from West bound Fullerton. I took it to court. When I arrived, the courtroom was packed, including people standing along the walls. At 9:30 a.m.,the baliff announced “hear ye hear ye, the honorable Lester Jankowski presiding all stand.” Judge Jankowski entered, sat down, then announced “everybody here today is not guilty.” Then he stood up and left. So I asked the baliff what gives…not trying to sound like I was complaining. “Today is the judge’s golf day,” the baliff answered. Only in Chicago.

  10. Joihn says:

    When they had Area Narcotics Units, we would have to do probable cause hearings on each buy (which didn’t last by a few months before we indicted them). One day I’m in the back of Br.57 and say to one of the other guys “How the hell am I going to testify on 30 buys today?” Just then the Judge comes walking through, looks at me and says, “I can’t wait to see this myself.”

  11. Dern says:

    I remember being at court once and heard the defense try and grill a copper. It went something like this:
    “Officer do you trust your partner.”
    Officer responded “Yes I do.”
    Defense “How much do you trust him.”
    Officer “With all my life.”
    Defense “Do you trust your fellow officers.”
    Officer “Yes I do, very much.”
    Defense “Officer if you trust your partner with your life and trust your fellow brothers in blue, then why do you have locks on your lockers. If you trust them, all lockers should be with out locks since you have great trust in them.”
    The officer who was seasoned, cool and professional responded “my district is an area district with courtrooms and is pretty much open. We dare not a or risk a lawyers walking around our lockers rooms. So yes that is why we have locks.”
    The judge laughed, told the officer good one and redirected him. The defense attorney was shaken because he did not expect that. All the coppers in the front benches where cracking up. You cant make this stuff up. Cant wait for your book.

    Tact guy.

  12. Kathleen Nolan says:

    And those are only a Few from this naked city. Love it!

  13. These stories (truths) are what make us family. Been there, seen that and done that.

  14. John says:

    Let’s see, working nights then to 26 and Cal. and brunch at Jeans. Been there, Done that.

    • jimpadar says:

      Brunch at Jean’s… I almost forgot about that. And don’t forget the late nights waiting for a jury to come back. That wasn’t Jean’s but the name of the place escapes me now.

  15. Rich says:

    Another great tale Jim. I too had the singing judge after an auto theft conviction. He was a cool dude. Earl something or other. I can`t remember his last name.

  16. Jonathan Goldsmith says:

    It looks like I’m the only perp reading your stuff. I still enjoy it, though.


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