Recently, I spent a day at the Delray Beach Courthouse in Southeast Florida. There’s something unique about the feeling of sitting in court—weighing the copious amounts of conflicting evidence, questioning the truthfulness of witnesses, and waiting with breathless anticipation for the verdict.
As I sat in the courtroom I wondered if mercy played a role in justice or if justice would be served at all. I wondered if I would leave with a renewed appreciation for the judicial system or with a silent despair that there is, perhaps, no such thing as justice at all.
Before I continue, I should point out that this was not my trial. Generally, I consider myself to be a half-decent law-abiding citizen. Except for jaywalking. Yeah, I’ve done that…
But I digress. I have considered pursuing a career in law for quite some time. Given my interest, I requested to shadow one of the case attorneys who happens to be a family friend. So that’s how I ended up in court.
The trial was in fact regarding two divorced individuals who were fighting for the sole custody of their 9 year old daughter, who we’ll call Liz. Liz, who was in utero when her parents were divorced, has grown up with no recollection of a peaceful home or any loving interactions between her biological parents.
As I sat in the courtroom gallery on that muggy Florida morning, I observed as a teacher, a doctor, a physician’s assistant, and a psychiatrist took the stand, promised to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” and gave their testimonies.
Was Liz doing well in school like her mother indicated? She had attention and disciplinary issues, said the teacher.
Should Liz be given strong medication for her attention issues like her father demanded? She did not require medication, said the doctor.
As the father was called to the stand to testify, he told story after story of the mother’s insubordination, disregard of previous court orders, neglect of Liz, and inappropriate public confrontations.
As the mother gave her account, she insisted the father was abusing his parental responsibility, verbally assaulting her in front of Liz, and refusing to give Liz the psychiatric help she needed.
During the brief court recesses, I had the opportunity to speak to both Liz’s mother and father. The mother described the abuse she had received from her ex-husband and her regret that she had ever married him at all. She cautioned me to be wise and use integrity when making my decision for a future spouse. The father sighed and told me that the fighting had been going on for so long, he felt callous to it.
As I stared out the large window in the courthouse hall, I wondered the outcome of the case. What was justice in this situation? Who should have full custody?
Then I realized, justice would not be served. It could not be served.
No matter who ended up with custody, an innocent child would be permanently damaged. Liz had been dealt a bad hand from the beginning. In 9 short years, she experienced more hurt than anyone should in a lifetime. She was told her father wanted to abort her. She was told her mother deserted her. For 9 years, she was shuffled between Mom and Dad. She was forced to witness public screaming matches and incessant fighting whenever her parents were in the same room. To deal with the psychological stress, Liz picked at her skin until she bled. Her tiny body is now riddled with scars.
I pondered the cruelty of the world in which we live. If there was such a thing as justice, Liz would never see it.
The courthouse—the building that one day may become my workplace—magnifies the cruelest elements of the human nature. Deaths are recompensed with monetary settlements. Children become tools for revenge. Violators are shamed and sentenced while victims who seek closure are offered a check. All who witness the proceedings—both innocent and guilty—are never the same. The emotional scars of fear, despair, pain, and regret exist forever and no amount of compensation, jail time, or admissions of guilt can heal a wounded heart.
The trial ended that day without a verdict. The lawyers, the judge, the court reporter, the bailiff, and the parents would reconvene on another day for more questions, more blaming, and more pain.
Before leaving the courthouse that evening, I again stood by the window in the hall. I noticed a phrase scratched in the dusty aluminum sill: “No justice here.”
I would have to agree.