Rounding the corner and seeing the tripods of television cameras in front of the courthouse sent a thrill through me. Yessss!! I mentally gave myself a high five and continued racing towards the sandstone structure.
Let me backtrack to the previous few days when I was pondering on my University assignment. My peers were bemoaning the fact that we had to attend and write about a court case and many worked full time, which meant they would need to use their lunch hour to sit in on one.
The local courts handled traffic misdemeanours, petty crimes and similar mundane cases, whereas I wanted something meatier and those cases would be held at the District courts.
I knew journalists had a heads up whereby they would receive Media Alerts prior to the event, but my problem was getting on that media list whilst being a mere University student.
A few phone calls over a week or so and I found myself speaking to the head of police media and literally begged to be put on the list for at best, a week or so. To my eternal gratitude, he was sympathetic and gave me a limited period.
Checking my newly arrived Media Alert list that very night, I discovered that a wanted man, a New Zealand national, was being extradited by Darwin police for the brutal attack on an Irish tourist two years earlier. He was the second of a duo implicated for the crime that left their victim brain damaged and in a permanent vegetative state.
Bingo! I excitedly made plans to attend the case which was being held in Waverley court at 9 am. An extradited, wanted fugitive would be far more interesting than sitting in on speeding offences! Hence my excitement at seeing the big media representatives congregating outside the court. Yes, they were all there, Channel 9, SBS, ABC to name a few and the radio stations as well.
Nervousness hit me in the very next nanosecond! Scanning the faces of the polished media personalities, standing in self-possessed poise, I felt inadequate, insecure and lost. Looking quizzically at me, the ginger-haired, casually dressed guy asked which media I represented. Acutely aware that I lacked an identity lanyard, I confessed I was a very inexperienced student on my first case.
He introduced himself as a foreign correspondent for a New Zealand network. The penny dropped! Of course, the prisoner being extradited was a New Zealander or Kiwi, as they are referred to in Australia. Trying to hide my awe, I mentally ticked off the fact that he was the very first ‘foreign correspondent,’ I was meeting. Without appearing to do so, I tagged along with him but, being canny, he matter-of-factly stated that we needed to get the name of the magistrate and the court room number. While I stood before the polished, scroll-like wooden board where I gratefully copied down the name and number in my notebook, he rushed over to a sheriff to confirm the court room. Courtroom venues can change.
My new acquaintance quickly rushed outside to answer his phone so I stood and studied the crowd around me. Men in suits mingled with elderly people, young jean-clad youth and pregnant mothers with their children and grandparents in tow. Court officials and lawyers rushed up and down stairs. It was a more crowded and far busier courthouse than the local ones.
I then met an Australian Associated Press (AAP) journalist who appeared more approachable than the other network reporters. We chatted until we noted a general exodus of people from the courthouse. Looking at her watch, she informed me that the entire courthouse staff go on their lunch break at the same time and that she was heading off to catch up with some work and grab a bite to eat. I did the same.
We filed back into the courthouse after lunch and I made my way up to the courtroom where I ensured I dutifully bowed my head towards the magistrate before finding a seat. Several cases went through and still the case wasn’t called. Looking around, I noted an attractive, reasonably dressed, middle aged woman sitting quietly next to a man. I briefly wondered if perhaps she was a relative of the Irish victim who, according to online media, was receiving on-going physiotherapy treatment back in Ireland and had progressed only marginally in his bed-ridden state. I looked on in sympathy and then wondered if the Irish media were also present in the courtroom.
No sooner had the thought flashed through my mind when a legal representative with a number of papers, addressed the magistrate. Rifling through her work, she immediately asked for the person in question to stand up. It got interesting when that very woman I was looking at, stood up. The magistrate began by questioning her mildly but soon sat up at the surprising belligerent tone she received in response.
Surprise, surprise! The quiet lady turned out to be a serial ‘road-rager’. Oh yes! Not only did she cut her victims off but she allegedly, would stop in front of them, step out of her car and roundly abuse them while holding up traffic for several traffic light changes.
I decided there and then that should the Kiwi fugitive case not pan out, I would definitely use this story. At this part of the proceedings, her Honour put aside her papers and addressed the woman directly. In a firm but puzzled tone she asked how a person who nurtured, cared for and tended patients, could have a change of personality unbecoming of her profession. The magistrate pointed out that she was trying hard not to take away her licence as that would mean she would have no means of visiting her patients, and her job would then be in jeopardy.
Rather than being contrite or showing remorse, the woman instead appeared offended at being questioned about the stance she had taken. To her, the manner in which she conducted herself during her road rage, was perfectly in order and she still couldn’t see anything wrong with it. Needless to say, her Honour was not impressed and made a date for her final decision to be handed down in a fortnight’s time. While I was disappointed that I would not find out her final decision, I and many in that courtroom, would not have been surprised if that woman’s licence was eventually revoked.
There was a flurry of people vacating the court room, and quite a few new faces filed in. The room began to buzz! The lawyer representing the extradited Kiwi told the magistrate that his client had decided he would not appear in court. I was disappointed as I was curious as to what he looked like. I had earlier taken a stroll outside to the spot where the cameras were set up and had spoken to the photojournalists. Whilst they had trained their cameras on the entrance slope leading to high roller doors situated at the side and far back of the building, they shrugged and told me that there was little chance of getting a shot of the prisoner. The police vans were usually blacked out and depending on the court house, there were other entrances and exits, making it difficult to know which area to focus their cameras on.
A decision to hear the case in a month’s time was made but my assignment was due before then, so I decided I would just leave it at that. Bowing once again towards the magistrate, I vacated the courtroom and found the foreign correspondent outside. He took me over to the administration desk where we received the official details of the magistrate’s decision and other pertinent information. The AAP reporter squeezed in beside me. I had barely finished writing down all the details when I once again, spotted the New Zealand reporter. He was typing furiously on his laptop and with a final flourish, he exclaimed, ‘finished!’ He turned to me and told me that he had just sent his report and was ready to call it a day. I was duly impressed. No running back to the Daily Planet like Lois Lane would have done. Not in this day and age! A mere press of the button and the story wings its way across the ocean to the Editor’s desk in New Zealand. I glanced at my watch and noted it was just after 4pm. Where had the day gone?
A postscript – my tutor was impressed at my initiative in getting on the police media list and more importantly, chasing the story. I felt however, that I gained in overall experience and was thrilled when I received 100% for this assessment. 🙂
© Wendy Robinson
Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are. ~ Benjamin Franklin