Tag: Public Affairs Reporting

Law & Order: Orange County

Law & Order: Orange County

It has been another long, busy day for me. There was a quite long Boom and California Connections meeting, classes, a 50-question multiple choice exam, long drives to and from Fullerton…

But it all started with a field trip early this morning.

Though I’m exhausted and perhaps a little grouchy because of it, I can’t deny that the trip was a lot of fun. I visited the Orange County Superior Court (or the Superior Court of California: County of Orange if you prefer the over embellished name) on an invitation by CSUF Professor and ex-New York Times Editor Walt Baranger.

See Walt is teaching Public Affairs Reporting this semester, and a part of that class is going to be a series of trips meant to help students understand the breadth of how systems in California work.

Because he couldn’t get enough people from that class to sign on for the trip, he also invited members of Comm 471 to come along. I decided to come along, since it sounded like a really cool opportunity.

Fortunately, it turned out to be an even cooler experience than I was expecting, which made it worth moving my exam originally set for this morning to yesterday morning. Even if having to do that was a bit of a nightmare.

The reason the event wound up being so worth it was because of how personal it became, which I wasn’t necessarily prepared for. Though we weren’t able to take any pictures inside unfortunately, so words will have to do.

Our trip started with a one-on-one sit down with a District Attorney. One-on-16 or so technically, but who’s counting. She told us all about the role of a DA in the courtroom and the general process of moving a case through the system, along with a sense of the large range of cases a place like Orange County generates. But she also brought in her own experience working on sexual assault cases before transferring to the OC Superior Court to start working on misdemeanors.

She also let us know that Law & Order was one of her favorite shows because it’s pretty close to reality. I thought that was pretty funny, thus a post headline was born!

Once she had to go work on a case (given we were essentially cutting time out of her day), three Deputy Sheriffs took her place. Together, they talked to us about their role in the system, both in terms of protecting the judge and attorneys — with an impressive range of weapons I might add — and in terms of patrolling the local area and making potential arrests.

After all, it turns out they work police patrols just like the boys in blue out and about. Who knew?

I mean obviously some people knew. But I did not.

They also showed us a bunch of interesting weapons they had come across in the past. For example, they had a small wall covered in a number of them, including a number of ninja stars, a hair comb that had a knife hidden on the part of the handle that attached to the bristles and a walking cane with a hidden knife inside.

Courtrooms have to deal with a lot of knives apparently.

Once that part of the tour was done, we crossed over to the other side of the large U-shaped building, went down three floors and got to see an active traffic court. Hell, not just that, the judge himself stopped in the middle of his proceedings to talk with us about his job and give us advice to not wind up in front of him.

Listening to his advice and seeing people come in front of him for various things made me far more weary of my driving, honestly. God knows I don’t want to wind up with a $900 fine for not having my insurance, or a different substantial fine for being caught driving solo in the carpool lane.

I’ll also probably never forget this thing he told us: “Driving is a privilege you can lose fast.”

After traffic court, we passed by collections and made our way back up to where we started, where we got to sit in on part of an active court case regarding a domestic violence accusation. When we arrived, we got to watch the prosecutor thoroughly question an Anaheim police officer who was called to check on the two involved parties arguing outside Disneyland.

It was pretty fascinating to watch, but even more fascinating was the way the judge called a 10 minute recess in the proceedings so that we could talk with the prosecutor and public defender. Seriously, not only did they give us a little behind the scenes look into the case they were working on, they also let us ask whatever we wanted to know for a time.

Pretty awesome stuff, not gunna lie.

That case picked up again soon after, but instead of staying to watch more we got another special treat.

Off in a large, quiet courtroom on the third floor, we got a personal session with a Felony Arraignment Judge. He was easily the most fascinating person we met all day, mostly because of how personable he was.

He himself addressed the fact that courtrooms are intimidating – by design, if anything. So seeing how casual and… For lack of a better word, human he was made things so much cooler when we got to ask him whatever we wanted.

What we wanted to know pretty much ranged from his personal interest in justice and what got him to where he was to the newest changes to the bail system in California to the mechanics behind dealing with cases of rats going against gangs or mobs.

Just fascinating stuff, frankly.

But the trip didn’t end there. When the judge went back to work (since he said he sees 100+ cases a day in his position), the Court Administrator who had been giving us the tour got everyone involved in a role-playing scenario. There was a court case set up that we got to play the roles in!

Getting to embody courtroom positions while sitting in a real courtroom was about as awesome as it sounds.

I was one of the witnesses in the case of a woman who was believed to have stolen a car when she claimed she was returning it to the rental shop’s owner. Specifically, I got to be the California Highway Patrol officer (that’s Officer Wright to you) who pulled the defendant over and started the whole thing.

It was a blast, even if our jury decided the defendant was not guilty despite her being guilty in the real life case it was based off of.

Walt actually got pictures of us acting out the case, but I reached out to him to ask about getting my hands on some and he hasn’t gotten back to me. So… I’d say expect another post sometime in the near future with some dope pictures.

The mock trial was an awesome wrap-up to the day, which took about 3 hours through and through. From there I went to Fullerton and trekked through the rest of my day: The long meeting, the class, the exam and the work I had to complete after.

It was a long day, but a fulfilling one. I had a great time in the courthouse, and I have Walt to thank for it. Hopefully I’ll be able to go on more cool trips like it in the near future!

But for now, I’m just going to enjoy a little bit of time off since my class got cancelled tomorrow. I’ll look forward to some extra sleep after three days of getting up early and running hard.