All Rise! … now what’s my password again?

As part of my free life lesson program, I had the distinct pleasure to be in Atlanta Traffic Court Monday afternoon for the first live session using the court”s new computerized case-management system. The pleasure came from the pure comedy involved in watching a staid old traffic court judge try to use one of those newfangled computer systems. It seemed a whole lot like trying to teach your grandpa to check his email.

The judge actually had a representative from the system vendor sitting with him as he tried to navigate the system – during a live court session. Hardly any action attempted went well for the judge, and his frustration steadily grew during the 90 minutes I had to stick around to be on hand. Almost away from his mic, the judge would mutter things like “why can”t I just change this to $15? I want it to say 15 bucks!!” to his hand-holder, and couldn”t use the system at all to do some things.

A typical case went something like this:

Judge: Call the next case.

Clerk: DEFENDANT NAME

Judge: Mr. DEFENDANT NAME, you”re charged with … … … … seat belt violation.

Solicitor: Your honor, Mr. DEFENDANT NAME has three citations.

Judge: I don”t see that.

Judge”s Helper: [reaches over to show judge where to see the citations]

Judge: [to Judge"s Helper] Well, why doesn”t that show here? [pointing to screen]

Judge”s Helper: [points at screen, mumbles instructions to judge]

Judge: Mr. DEFENDANT NAME, you”re charged with … … I can”t read this (poorly-scanned citation image)

Solicitor: [lists charges]

Judge: OK, Mr. DEFENDANT NAME, are you entering a plea?

DEFENDANT: Yes sir. Guilty.

Judge: OK, $150 fine plus state surcharges … … … [to Judge"s Helper] Where does it show the fine?

Judge”s Helper: [points at screen]

Judge: [stares at screen, fumbles around with mouse] [to Judge"s Helper] I can”t change it!

Judge”s Helper: [points at screen]

Judge: [to Judge"s Helper] Why do I have to do that twice? I want to just put the fine here [points at screen]

Judge: [stares at screen, fumbles around with mouse] … … … … … … … OK, Mr. DEFENDANT NAME, please step through the door to your right and see the cashier.

Judge: Call the next case.

You get the idea. The scene was captured in this courtroom drawing that looks remarkably like a piece of a decent camera-phone picture (those courtroom artists are good!)

After making it through about five cases – none of which involved anything more than a defendant saying “guilty” and paying a fine or “not guilty” and getting a trial date – in an hour, the judge went into speed-plea mode. He called cases alphabetically because it was a lot easier to find them that way, and had defendants queue up 10 deep to compensate for the slowness of him getting through each case.

Fortunately, the guy who hit me is a “C”, so I was out of there pretty quickly. But it was a lot of fun to watch while I was there.

And the scary news? The next phase of traffic court efficiency is replacing the paper citation pads cops carry with an electronic device that records everything digitally and just spits out a small receipt for the offender. I”m sure that”ll go off without a hitch.

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