Going to Court (with cochlear implants)
One afternoon in April, Dave brought the mail in and began sifting through the envelopes. Then he froze, staring at one envelope in particular and murmuring “Uh oh” under his breath.
“What? What’s wrong, what is it?” Sometimes Dave can be dramatic but usually a comment like that from him is very much warranted, so I was worried.
He pulled the paper out of the envelope, looked at it and passed it to me. It was a subpoena, addressed to me. I’ve never even seen one before, and my first reaction was that somehow I’d gotten in trouble for something I didn’t even know I’d done.
It came from the Cook County Criminal Court, and I tried to calm down and read over it in order, without glancing all over the page trying to glean some quick information about what this pertained to.
I noticed that it was a case brought by the State of Illinois against somebody I’d never heard of. Then I saw that I was being called to testify, basically as a witness. It stated that if I didn’t show up, I would be in contempt of court.
Finally, it said I needed to be in court May 11 in Chicago at 9 am, but to report to a certain room first. Then it said to call a phone number when I received the subpoena.
This was late on Friday afternoon, so we knew there was no point calling that day…it would have to wait until Monday. Why do things like this always arrive on the weekend, making me worry for nearly 3 days before I can find out any information?! It’s like an unwritten rule…even my doctor’s office always tends to call with test results late on a Friday afternoon, so I have to wait until Monday to call them back.
So I sat there, quietly freaking out. People, I have NEVER been to court before. I’ve only stepped foot in a courtroom two times before, and never for my own self. Once with a friend in high school when she got a speeding ticket and showed up in court so that she could get the fee waived and go to driving school instead, and once when my son got a ticket for being out after curfew when he was 16 years old. Both times I was just there as an observer, not involved at all. The one time I got a notice for jury duty (back when I still had some hearing, in the early 2000s) I told them I would need CART, and included a note from my doctor to confirm my hearing loss. They wrote back and told me I was excused and didn’t need to show up at all.
And really, I had NO idea what this subpoena related to. Never heard of the person named. There was no information at all included with the subpoena, telling me what they wanted from me. It was completely mind boggling!
I sat and tried to think of every possible situation it might involve, and then I remembered that a while back, I disputed a balance transfer made against one of my credit cards. It was for a HUGE amount ($8,500) and the credit card company sent me an affidavit that I had to sign, stating that I had no knowledge of the transfer and I didn’t approve it.
I couldn’t remember when exactly this happened, just that it was in December (because it was the credit card I was using exclusively for Christmas gift purchases) and that it was before I went totally deaf, because I called them as soon as I saw the charge show up when I checked my account online.
I pulled up my Quicken program and found that yes, it happened Dec. 13, 2007 – so it was a year and a half ago. I remembered we had some weirdness about 6 months later with a lady calling us, saying she was with the Mail Fraud department of the post office. Dave talked to her and explained that I was now deaf (these calls started after April of 2008) so I couldn’t talk to her. She mentioned a guy’s name that we didn’t recognize, asking if we’d ever heard of him (I hadn’t). She was asking Dave for account numbers and other things he assumed she would have if she was really working on this case, so he got suspicious. He didn’t talk to her again after that phone call but he actually wondered if she was one of the thieves, somehow trying to get more information out of us. It was all really strange and we never received anything in the mail or heard more about it.
I asked Dave if he thought the name on the subpoena was the same as the one mentioned by the Mail Fraud investigator and he agreed, he did think it was the same person. At the time we were getting calls from the Postal inspector, I did a search on this person’s name in Google and saw they had been convicted of credit card fraud in Colorado. So I did another search, entering in the name of the person on the subpoena, and got that same article. Yep, it was the same person.
Once I realized what it was all about, I calmed down a lot. But really, couldn’t they give you at least a hint why you’re being called as a witness?! It’s kind of crazy! So we let it go for the weekend, and on Monday Dave called the State’s Attorney. He never did answer the phone (Dave called more than once) so he left him a message, explaining that I was deaf but that we did receive the subpoena.
It took a couple of weeks but we finally got a return phone call (when we weren’t home, of course) and the State’s Attorney left a message saying that the case was still on, and to show up at that office the day of the case.
So on Monday of this week, we got Paige off to school and left the house at 7:30 am. It’s about a 45 minute drive to Chicago from our house, but rush hour traffic is terrible and unpredictable, so we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time. I brought along the credit card statement that showed the fraudulent charge and the subsequent credit the credit card company gave me after I disputed the charge, just in case.
Traffic wasn’t too bad getting into the city, but once we got within sight of the parking garage things pretty much stopped dead. For some reason, there was no left turn arrow onto the street where the garage was located. Oncoming traffic was totally solid so nobody could turn left except after the light turned red…then 3 or 4 cars would zoom through the red light, making a left turn so they could get to the courthouse garage. It was really insane!
After we made our own wild left turn (yes, I closed my eyes) we found out that yes, we were at the right garage and it wouldn’t cost anything to park, and we were finally walking across the street to the courthouse. My heart was pounding by this time because it was 9:00 already, we still had to go through the long security lines and my morning coffee was making itself known … there was no way I was doing anything until I got to a bathroom!
They divided us up into a men’s line and women’s line, which Dave didn’t catch – they kept telling him he needed to go to the left but he didn’t hear them because it was so loud inside. Finally I tapped his arm and talked right to his hearing aid, letting him know he needed to go in the other line. I was wondering if my CIs would pose a problem, going through the metal detector. They had a sign posted in front of it but it didn’t say anything about people with pacemakers or other types of implants so I just put my purse on the belt and walked through the detector…no problem at all. They checked out my purse and that was fine, so I just had to wait for Dave.
Now that we were in the building, I calmed down a lot because my biggest worry had been actually getting down there on time. We found a bathroom, then rode an elevator to the office we needed to go to. I kept my CIs on the background noise program because it was just so loud in there – people talking, high heels clacking on the floor, everything echoing, etc. Right after we checked in with the receptionist, the State’s Attorney walked up (we had gotten there before he did!) and we showed him the subpoena. He told us he’d be back in a few minutes to explain what was going to happen that day.
We waited for quite a while, watching all the people coming in and out, the lawyers pulling carts full of folders and documents out to the court rooms, etc. I mentioned to Dave that the background noise program made hearing voices a lot easier, so he tried it on his hearing aid and agreed – we both stayed on those programs for the rest of the day.
In the back of my mind I kind of hoped the case would be dismissed once the prosecution realized a witness had shown up – a lot of people told me that’s usually what happened. But not for me. A couple of different lawyers were working on my case – the original one was working on a murder case so we ended up working with his associate. We walked with her down to the court room and originally sat down where all the observers sit. She came back to get us and showed us to a room behind the actual court room.
The room was filled with police officers, detectives and lawyers. After a while a few guys came in, witnesses for the murder case. It was all kind of exciting and interesting! We explained in detail what happened so the attorney knew the specifics (they originally didn’t know whether my actual credit card had been stolen, etc.) I still don’t know how this guy got a hold of my credit card number, by the way – that was never explained.
They told me if they worked it out with the prosecution, they might just have me sign some papers and that would be it. But apparently that didn’t happen, and I was actually called as a witness.
I had explained to every single person I came in contact with that I was deaf, but had cochlear implants to help me hear and also that I could read lips. Not one person seemed taken aback or put off by this; they were all really nice and accommodating. They offered to get an interpreter, but I explained that I didn’t know sign language. I told them all I needed was to be able to see everyone’s faces so I could lip read. In other words, don’t sit at a table across the room, looking down at your notes, and talk to me…because I won’t understand! Everyone said it was not a problem at all.
Finally the time came and I was waiting outside the courtroom door with the bailiff. They called me in and the witness box was right to the left of the door I went through, next to the judge. I did the whole “raise your right hand and swear to tell the truth” business. Then the State’s Attorney came right up and asked her questions. I only had 5 questions to answer, about how and when I noticed the fraudulent transaction, etc. I had to look at the two guys and say whether I knew them, whether I gave them or anyone else permission to make this transfer. Then the prosecutor came up (right up in front of me) and just asked a couple of questions, including whether I had the credit card statement with me (they ended up keeping a copy of it). And then I was dismissed!
We went back to the room and waited about 5 minutes, and the State’s Attorney came in and thanked me profusely for my time. I guess these guys had been doing this from July 2007 through Jan. 2008 – there were a lot of other victims listed, but I was the only one who showed up. I guess I was the only one intimidated by the whole ‘contempt of court’ thing! ;) Seriously though, I’m glad I did it. It was a pain going to Chicago at that time of day, but it was kind of interesting and made me feel like I did my part to get some justice.
It also was one of the better experiences I’ve had as far as accommodations go. Although I didn’t need much, they were pretty much willing to do whatever I needed to have total understanding/communication that day, and nobody seemed put out or annoyed. They even had a victim’s advocate come talk to me, although I really didn’t feel too victimized since I wasn’t even out any money in the end. It was just a good experience all in all.
Now I can chalk off another life experience … I’ve been to court and survived it!