CASES by Howard T. Senzel


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Disjointed, sometimes funny, sometimes horrific, but true stories from AT-1, the lowest level criminal court in New York City, where ""the fundamentals of social organization in the Western tradition. . . have slipped away."" And anything goes: the cops have reached a state of transcendence (""I don't care if it's 90 days, time served or you give him a bowl of soup and five dollars""); the legal aid lawyers are embittered (""If the judge pulled out a pistol and shot my client, I would be disappointed . . . but I would not be surprised""); many defendants seem to have come from other planets (""Your honor, I am the Playboy Messiah""); and remorse is rare (from a defendant charged with attempted murder: ""Too bad the son-of-a-bitch didn't die""). A minor-level court administrative functionary rather than a lawyer--just ""some old white guy going nowhere"" to the largely black support staff--Senzel had a unique vantage point for daily observation of a system in extremis, and of the adversary system's essence: ""when your ass is on the line, you believe whatever you say to save it."" Lightning-fast arraignments, pleas and trials; a defendant who appears wearing aluminum foil on his head, pulling his sneakers on a leash; a defense lawyer who snaps and is carried screaming from the courtroom; a transsexual hooker who exposes his/her silicone-inflated breasts in court (""All right, mister,"" says the court officer, ""Cover 'em up"")--Felliniesque, surreal, but commonplace in AT-1. The big plus here is Senzel's unerring ear for street dialogue. On the minus side: his interstitial ramblings about racism, politics (""Not all crimes are political, but all punishments are""), and how America has failed (""What's best has passed. We all know it. America isn't growing anymore""). Without commentary: a chilling read for anyone who retains illusions about the majesty of the law.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Viking