Orange isn't the new black ... not in Putnam County courts

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

As the Greencastle and DePauw University communities await the appearance of "Orange is the New Black" author Piper Kerman tonight (7:30 p.m. Ubben Lecture at Kresge Auditorium), the real world of the courts and the judicial system plays out Monday through Friday at the Putnam County Courthouse.

And while every episode of "Orange" is steeped in scandal and salacious detail, the folks in orange who trudge the halls of our courthouse awaiting the fates in the third-floor courtrooms of Circuit Court Judge Matt Headley and Superior Court Judge Denny Bridges have little in common with their Netflix counterparts.

There are no high-priced lawyers in our midst to make myriads of motions that would have Perry Mason's head spinning. The women don't look like Victoria's Secret models dressed in orange.

Instead it's a perp parade of defendants often on their second, third, fourth or more violation of probation. Who, for some silly reason known only to them, have kicked aside any courtroom break that has come their way to dance with the devil and the possibility of real jail time.

Take some of the cases before the judges earlier this week. We're not talking crimes of the century here but enough anti-social behavior to get a person in a lot of hot water.

Like the young lady from Hendricks County who is in her mid-20s but looks 16. Now on her second petition to revoke probation, she failed to show up in court earlier, and now faces an evidentiary hearing that could result in the jail time that has been suspended being served behind bars.

And it's not just herself she's hurting. She has a young baby, and she told the court, another on the way.

So, no, orange is not the new black for her. It's her lot in life apparently.

Then there's the mid-30s woman from the southern part of the county, on probation in one theft case and failing to appear in court on another.

Admittedly, she had no good reason to miss her court date. Must have overslept, she reasoned.

That off-hand remark snapped Judge Bridges to attention. He had been preoccupied, reviewing her paperwork until she mentioned oversleeping. Then the gloves came off.

"Ma'am," the judge interjected, "this is not like you're making a trip to Kroger. If you don't show up here, you end up in an orange jumpsuit and chains."

The system is full of people like that. Their own worst enemies. They can't even fulfill the requirements of reporting to the probation office, paying their fees on time or just plain showing up in court.

Take the East Side resident who has accumulated an even dozen indefinite suspensions of his driver's license.

"Why do you continue to drive?" Deputy Prosecutor Jim Hanner implored as only the veteran legal eagle can.

"Gotta work," came the terse reply.

He pleaded guilty to his latest infraction, received informal probation and was told he needs to quit driving, especially if he's going to do it with a tail light out.

The Bureau of Motor Vehicles is probably going to make him an habitual traffic offender, the judge reasoned. And if he keeps driving after that, he's going to end up in jail.

Here's betting it's not going to faze him or change the end result.

And then there's the Clay County man who was an overdue Putnam Superior Court visitor the other day.

His crime? Jacklighting.

That's the illegal practice of shining a light into the woods or a field at night for hunting (using the term loosely) purposes.

The searchlight or headlights used temporarily blind the animal -- usually a deer or a raccoon -- and invariably the critters stand still, making them easy prey for the so-called hunters. Like shooting fish in a barrel, so to speak.

That's just what the defendant did -- eight years ago.

And all he had to do to clear his name was to do a few hours of community service and pay the fee for a pretrial diversion, which would have wiped his record clean after a prescribed amount of time.

Did he do either? Of course not.

"You've drug this Class C misdemeanor out eight years," Judge Bridges incredulously exclaimed. "Eight years! That might be a record."

And still basically he got another break.

"Get it paid off," the judge instructed, "and we won't see you back here April 10. If you don't, we will."

Yep, he was all black in court, but orange may be in his future.

Orange is the new black?

Nope, orange is still the same old orange here.