I went to the district justice's office at Barbadoes and Main last week to observe a hearing about a neighborhood matter. Before the hearing, as I sat out in the waiting area, I got a chance to observe the staff of the District Justice in action. I have to say, I was pretty disgusted by what I observed.
As I sat there, people from, I think, 3 separate cases entered. The 4 or 5 women on the staff sit in an office behind a reception counter and wall of glass on one side of the lobby.
I was greeted with a grumpy "Sign in!" as were at least 2 other women who came in. One guy was there before us, so I can't say how he was greeted, but the men who came in after were given much more friendly and polite treatments. Many of them were municipal employees or other men who the staff already seemed to know, so the problem may not have been gender discrimination, but merely unfamiliarity somehow breeding contempt. Still, to my mind, when someone is being paid by the taxpayers to fill a position that deals with the public, the job skill of courtesy should be required.
Furthermore, in a place where plaintiffs and defendants are forced to gather, there ought to be some rule that everyone be treated by the staff in an identical and fair manner. I've been on jury duty over at the courthouse and never saw anyone involved with a case treated with discourtesy there. Not so at the district justice's office. I got the impression from at least 3 of the staff that they'd decided who in each case was in the wrong and treated the people in the waiting area accordingly.
But the incident that really infuriated me was when one of the women asked for copies of 2 documents relating to her case that she hadn't received. The answer was a surly "Whaddya need 'em for?"
The staff has no right to ask this question. Every plaintiff and defendant has a right to all the documentation involved. It's no business of anyone on the staff why the woman needed the copies. But the woman replied that she didn't know if she'd have to appeal the case so she wanted all the documentation. Another staff member then came forward, perhaps sensing that her colleague had overreached a legal boundary. Bless her, she politely said she'd get the copies.
The woman was called into her hearing before the copies could be obtained. Afterwards, she again asked the staff if she could have the documents. The first staff member said "The judge has all the papers. We can't make the copies." (Though no one actually checked to see if this were the case. I have to wonder why they were so opposed to helping her.) The woman pleaded with them for another few moments and finally someone said if she wrote down her address, the copies would be mailed to her. She wrote down her address, but as she tried to hand it to the staff member--and this really floored me--the staff member purposefully turned her back and walked away from the window.
Are you kidding me? My taxes are paying someone like that? Just one more ugly thing in Norristown, promoting our bad reputation.