Clearly Judge Lionel Michot was a benevolent man. His name, pronounced “Me-show,” had long ago suggested the nickname of Judge Show-me, and the lawyers always called him that behind his back.
He had a round face with large, deep-set eyes shaded by great, thick, wiry eyebrows that needed to be combed.
He was stern and serious and loved the law, but there was a smile in his eyes. I sensed that he thought the Reuhausens complaint was a petty one, but he treated them with the greatest of deference.
Judge Michot insisted on taking time to read every issue of the CSN. He insisted on seeing various items of evidence, including some of the “stolen” equipment itself and my photographs. When he asked me who the Sleuth Brothers were I told him that they were two eight-year-old boys, but I didn’t offer their names.
The officer who had come to our house was standing in the courtroom. When I answered the judge about the Sleuth Brothers the policeman looked at me and put the back of his hand over his mouth to cover a grin.
Judge Michot seemed to grasp everything readily.
After about an hour of taking testimony he became solemn. He called me to stand before him. My mom started to walk up with me, but I waved her back.
“Everything I’ve heard here is true, is it not?” he asked me.
“It’s true.” It was true, even what Dad had suspected about Grampa’s disposing of things at Chop Beacher’s, as Mister Beacher attested in an affidavit.
“Is there anything you’d like to add before I make my judgment?”
“You understand, Miss McLogue, that I’m not going to render a verdict here. This proceeding is not for the purpose of convicting or acquitting you. I know I repeat myself, but I am arbitrating a dispute. I definitely agree with the aggrieved party, Karl and Nadia Reuhausen, that you have done wrong. I’m going to fix a penalty for your behavior. You understand that that’s what I’m about to do?”
“All right. I have a sentence in mind, and shortly you’ll learn what it is. But first, I have to compliment you on a very fine journalistic effort. It’s too bad that your zeal led you into trouble.
“The power to publish carries with it a very grave responsibility, Miss McLogue. You have failed in that responsibility. Do you know what I’m talking about?”
“And what is that?”
“Responsibility. Um, which means that if you have a story — some news — to report, you have to make sure it’s right. That what looks like facts really is facts.” I grimaced at him when I heard myself, a journalist, use that grammar.
“Tabloids exploit people. You know what tabloids are, don’t you?”
“Can you tell that they’re different from newspapers, or have you had the opportunity to read them?”
I thought of my mom and how she hated those tabloids that are displayed at the supermarket checkouts. She had badmouthed them so much that Heidi and I had gone on our own and bought a couple one time.
“I’ve bought a couple myself and read them, Sir. They’re pretty awful, even I can tell. And they’re poorly-written. What they tell very often simply can’t be true, and what is true is often missing a lot of important information.”
“But they print it anyway, don’t they.”
“Does that seem to be something like what you did?”
“Yes it does, Sir.”
“People in this country have the freedom to discover whatever is going on anywhere. That doesn’t mean they have a right to invade your privacy and what’s going on with you personally. But if you do something that’s public, you give up the privilege of calling it personal. Then they have an opportunity freely to learn about it.”
“And, if they have seen you do something, they have a right to publish what they have seen. And you have a right to publish as much about them. But no more than that.”
“Good. Now, you perceived that the Reuhausens were thieves. Criminals.”
“Yes, Sir. I did.” I paused until he was almost ready to speak again, and then I added: “I perceived that, but I perceived incorrectly.”
“You perceived, saw with your own eyes, gathered photographic evidence, and assembled some of the facts.” I nodded. Then he added: “How do we know that someone is a thief?”
“Well, a lot of times people just know it.”
“That’s not a good answer.”
“They get convicted.”
“Exactly! Have the Reuhausens been convicted of stealing?” Judge Michot was suddenly seeming angry.
“I guess not.”
“No. They have not been. So no matter what you might find for evidence to convince you of their guilt, they’re innocent until they’re convicted, aren’t they?”
“You were fooled by the smoking gun, weren’t you.”
“It’s as if you came across a dead body and beside the body someone was holding a smoking gun.”
“Yes, Sir. Now I understand.”
“It’s a frustrating thing to journalists when they find people holding smoking guns. They want to convict them in print. That’s what you did.”
“That was wrong.”
“Yes, it was, Sir.”
“I have in mind a punishment for you. I know that you yourself cannot pay any money, and if I make your parents pay some amount of money in damages, the effect would be lost on you.”
“I — do have some savings, Sir.”
“I have something else in mind. First, though, you tell me what else, besides a fine, you would consider a worthy penalty. If you propose something I think is appropriate, in addition to what I am going to impose, I may add it to your sentence.
“This is my concession to the Reuhausens. They may see you endure a stiffer penalty than this arbitrator intends to fix, but if so it will be your own doing. Do you understand?”
“I understand,” I said slowly. All through this conversation Judge Michot had remained solemn and less friendly, so now I was growing fearful. I pictured stocks and pillories, or being made to run through the streets in a rat costume.
Judge Michot motioned for me to go on — to propose my own fate.
I couldn’t be sure then, and I later discovered that it was some other symbol, but all through my trial I thought I saw a miniature silver cross on Judge Michot’s collar, so it gave me a thought. “I suppose, Sir, that it wouldn’t hurt me to begin attending church again. To learn how to be a better person.”
The judge was silent for a moment. “That could help just about everybody. I advise it. However, it will have to be a self-imposed discipline on your part, Miss McLogue, since the law can neither require attendance at a church nor make it a legal penalty. In fact, I’d prefer that you not think of that as a penalty. What I have in mind is something much more pertinent to the offense that you have committed.”
“I should probably go to jail,” I said without thinking, the way a guy who finds a magic lamp wastes the three wishes that the genie gives him.
Judge Michot leaned over to a sheriff’s deputy standing near the bench. They whispered for some time.
Then the judge turned back to me. “That can be arranged. What would you consider an appropriate period of time to spend in jail?”
I swallowed hard. I knew that kids do go to jail, some of them for years. I didn’t think I deserved years, nor even a single year in jail. “Thirty days,” I answered.
Judge Michot looked at me hard. I was afraid he thought I was making a mockery and I fought back tears, so I said: “Maybe you could make it longer but suspend all but thirty days.”
I couldn’t see my parents behind me, but I hoped I wasn’t embarrassing them.
“My dear child…” the judge faltered. Then he said: “My dear child. Your youth is too precious to spend a month of it in jail. However, I can see some value in it for you from a different viewpoint. And since you have sentenced yourself to jail, jail will be arranged. You will stay for twenty-four hours in solitary confinement — that’s for your own protection — in a genuine jail cell, to begin at six p.m. this Friday and end at six p.m. this Saturday. You’re still not coming close, though, to the punishment I believe will serve you best.”
“I suppose I should stop publishing The Clover Street News,” I suggested after a long pause.
“Oh, Miss McLogue, on the contrary. And at last you’re coming close to the heart of the matter. You must not cease to publish. You must go on! And don’t you see what you must do as quickly as you can in that fine paper of yours?”
“Print an apology,” I said, seeing how natural that would be, and at the same time seeing that that had been his intended “punishment” all along.
“So now we have it,” Judge Michot said, almost wearily. “First, you will begin going to church. That’s your own responsibility, and the arbitrator can only applaud that decision. Second, you will spend twenty-four hours in jail. Learn from that, Miss McLogue. That, by the way, is a sentence only inasmuch as you regard it as such. I look at it as a journalist’s visit for the purpose of learning first-hand about our judicial system. The proceedings of this hearing will not reflect any such stay in jail being imposed as your punishment; approved as a fascinating experience, if you parents allow it, but not as a punishment. And finally, not only will you continue publishing The Clover Street News, but you will print the most apologetic retraction of your accusation against your neighbor that you can compose. Your retraction must be submitted to me for review within three days of this proceeding and must be published as expediently as possible after that.”
Judge Michot then looked over at Mister Reuhausen. I stole a glance at Missus Reuhausen and when I did, she was staring right at my face. I lowered my chin and, holding her gaze, I smiled a little smile. Missus Reuhausen continued to look into me, and then her tight mouth loosened just enough to form a tiny smile — I saw it! — just for me. Immediately, then, she lowered her eyes and looked away.
“Sir,” Judge Michot was courteously addressing the rigid old weasel, “you have been made to suffer some brief embarrassment that you did not deserve. For that, the culprit will now atone. I look to you, Sir, and Madam, to initiate something in the way of reconciliation. It is for you to forgive. Forgiveness is not a ruling of this proceeding but an appeal to your integrity. It is my ruling, however, that you become reconciled with your accuser and she with you, but at your initiative.
“Rather than impose my ideas upon you of how that reconciliation might be achieved I will simply leave it to your fine character. Get to know this busy young lady. Make friends with your neighbors!” He smiled at all of us.
And with that, the hearing was abruptly adjourned.
The Clover Street News – Chapter 1 – Chapter 2 – Chapter 3 – Chapter 4 – Chapter 5 – Chapter 6 – Chapter 7 – Chapter 8 – Chapter 9 – Chapter 10 – Chapter 11 – Chapter 12 – Chapter 13 – Chapter 14 – Chapter 15 – Chapter 16 – Chapter 17