This 500 word true story featured nationally on ABC Open. The theme was "I quit"
It’s Friday and I am rostered on as the Legal Aid duty lawyer at the Magistrates Court. The court list isn’t long but it seems that every person’s matter has complications not obvious from their charge sheets.
First, there is a woman whose paperwork is a mess and it takes me thirty minutes of running between the police and the court to figure out what is going on. Then, the Intervention Order Court sends an unrepresented man to see me, a man too difficult for them to deal with. Finally, there are two people left, both facing routine drink driving charges.
"Magistrate wants to know how long you’ll be," says Christine, my admin assistant. I look at my watch.
"It's only 11.15."
"Apparently he wants to get off early."
"I’ll do my best," trying to sound pleasant.
I take the client in, a man in his late forties, a court virgin. He is quietly spoken and gentle. Six months before the offence, his wife of twenty years had left him and he lost his job of twelve years. He is sad and scared and drinking too much.
I do not rush.
We finish and he goes to wait for his day in court.
"The clerk’s been round, Magistrate’s getting toey, wants to know when you’ll be ready."
"I’ll be ready when I’m finished," I snap.
I call the next client in, a woman in her thirties facing two drink driving charges. We begin the descent into her world, firstly along wide paths of generalities, then tracks and, finally, nerve endings.
She has three small children, her husband is having an affair, her family are interstate and she has no access to money. The only clarity she gets is through a wine bottle.
I am nearly finished when there is a knock at the door.
"Yes?" I call out. A young man leans in.
"Hi, I’m McAllister's clerk, he’s going to call your matters now."
"But I’m not ready."
"He said don’t worry, he’ll give the statutory minimum off the road and the fines will be low."
I look at the woman who is wiping away her tears.
“I’m really sorry, but we need to go into court now.”
I enter the court and bow. The clerk calls the name of my first client. I stand to present the plea.
"No need for any details Ms Lawrence, he’ll be off the road for ten months, fine of $350."
"But, Your Honour…"
"No need, Ms Lawrence."
They call the next matter, the woman facing two drink driving charges. This time, the Magistrate cuts off the police officer as he begins to read the summary of the offence.
"Senior Constable, are there any extraordinary circumstances in the summary?"
"No, Your Honour."
"Very well. Two years suspension and $750 fine. Thank you Senior Constable, Ms Lawrence."
The Magistrate stands, we all follow suit. He bows, we bow, he walks out.
It is on my way home, standing at the train station in the shadow of the old hollow wheat silos, that I decide. I decide I don’t want to be the grease on the wheel of the big machine any more.