Tuesday Mornin’, Court Reportin’

(Title reference: this ever-popular intro)

I woke up at 7:15 a.m. this morning. I had every intention of making eggs, checking Case.Net to see if anything interesting was coming up in court, milling over the morning news and then taking the bus to reporting class.

I was wrong.

I checked my phone as soon as my alarm went off. A minute previously, at 7:14 a.m., my editor Katherine Reed, who runs an excellent blog about reporting, had emailed our entire public health and safety beat about three court proceedings that day which didn’t have reporters to cover them. After some sleepy emails and permission to skip the class Katherine would be teaching, I snapped up the 9:30 a.m. case.

Now this was my first time ever going to a court proceeding and only my second time inside the courthouse, and let me be the first to say: nerve-wracking. What if I went into the wrong room? What if I missed information? What if I made a fool of myself? What if the judge called me out for doing something wrong, however unintentional and I spontaneously combusted from embarrassment? Needless to say, there were some overactive butterflies in my stomach.

The gorgeous Columbia courthouse.
The gorgeous Columbia courthouse.

It wasn’t the huge train-crash nightmare I had envisioned, luckily. I got down all the information I needed, scribbling in my reporter’s notebook at a crazy pace, ears tuned to the sound of the judge’s and prosecutor’s voice. The case had to do with this crazy story of a former MU employee who attacked both a neighbor and a police officer with a plant holder and a bowling pin, respectively. I know. News can be really mundane, and then things like this happen. I wrote a quick brief on the court proceedings, which can be found online here.

A typical court docket is nothing like Law and Order, if you were wondering. There are multiple cases and lawyers and defendants and spectators in the room at any given time. It is hard to hear exactly what’s going on, and if you don’t have the documents in front of you, most of the case proceedings are gibberish. Granted, I love listening to professionals speak in jargon. I did, however, feel extremely out of the loop. As if everyone was talking about some cool event they all knew about while I was learning as I went along with the conversation. It’s too be expected, I guess. There’s no way I can know absolutely every motion, case and hearing that passes through any given judge’s chambers. …right?

I actually ended up going to court a second time today after my French class to hear the preliminary hearing of an 18-year-old man accused of shooting and killing another 18-year-old man this summer in Columbia. Sunny topic, I know. The proceeding in question was over within 30 seconds, as it is being transferred to another division and judge on Monday morning.

What? Are you serious?

I skipped class (sorry, Paula) to come back to court! I am a serious reporter! Give me something juicy and high profile! I want to write! It was anti-climatic, to say the least. My reporting friends and avid news consumers will agree that “anti-climatic” is not exactly the adjective we want attached to our daily news digest.

Which is completely ludicrous of me to expect, really. The justice system does not function to fulfill the public’s desire for drama and intrigue. The justice system definitely does not function to make my job more exciting. Yes, it is flawed. I am fully aware of the corruption and power struggles that erupt within courthouses. It is not, though, the purpose. The purpose (surprise, surprise) is to deliver fair, speedy and just trials to those accused of crimes. Not to create entertainment.

In spite of the fact that I didn’t get the Law and Order-worthy, block-buster preliminary trial I had dreamed of, my day full of court reporting was equally as full of learning experiences. I got to do something I had never done, and I came out alright. As a working student journalist, that’s one of the best feelings: realizing you actually do know how to swim (or can learn quickly with a little help from awesome editors and co-workers).

Journalism, for all its stress and long hours and unknowns, is the place for me. Do me a favor and consume some news today so I can actually go into this field.

Happy news reading, everyone!

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2 thoughts on “Tuesday Mornin’, Court Reportin’

  1. I felt twinges of nostalgia. I collected the data for some linguistic research in a courtroom. It was just as you described. You write like crazy, lean in to hear all that is happening, and watch cases last a minute or two for procedural reasons. But when a case is heard, you not only learn about the legal system, your understanding of human nature is deepened. I wish you well this year. It’s going to be exciting!

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