|Montgomery County Courthouse|
Some of the most unusual moments in court come on pretrial hearing days when courtrooms are packed to the judicial rafters, sometimes standing-room-only, with defendants, prosecutors and defense lawyers. At those hearings, judges get an idea of where cases are headed and defendants can plead guilty or seek delays for any number of reasons.
As one Pottstown man pleaded guilty to a DUI charge recently, Judge Steven T. O’Neill, as he typically does with substance abusers, asked the man about the last time he drank alcohol or ingested drugs. The man told the judge he smoked some “weed” recently.
The judge, who presides over the county’s drug treatment court, was not amused. The defendant realized he just stuck his foot in his mouth.
At that exact moment an infant in the courtroom in the lap of a spectator let out an excruciatingly loud wail.
“Yeah, that’s exactly what he’s expressing right now,” said O’Neill, acknowledging the baby's cry while referring to the defendant, eliciting laughter from spectators and lawyers in the courtroom.
When the laughter died down, the judge got serious.
|O'Neill's Gavel of Truth|
“You want to smoke weed, go ahead. But they’re going to lock you up,” O’Neill told the man, explaining that while he’s on probation he’s prohibited from drinking or using drugs and that random testing will uncover it. “You’re not allowed to smoke weed. You have to find some support in your life. Get some support or get treatment.”
At one point a woman claiming to be the fiancée of a man facing criminal charges rose from her seat and demanded to speak to the judge. The woman proceeded to tell O’Neill that her paramour wanted to plead guilty to his charges. However, that was in direct contrast to what the man’s lawyer communicated to the judge.
“I want him to just come home,” the woman told O’Neill, who kindly thanked the woman for her comments but advised her that her boyfriend has a qualified lawyer who will speak on his behalf. The woman, in a huff, headed for the courtroom door, all the while complaining loudly.
“He has counsel,” the judge reiterated to the woman.
“That sucks,” the woman shouted back, referring to the lawyer.
“She didn’t just say that did she?” the judge asked courtroom staffers.
“Yes, I f------ did,” the woman said as she left the courtroom in a huff, stunning spectators with her unapologetic expletive.
|Judge Steven T. O'Neill/Mercury file photo|
Much later in the day, as one of the last cases on the pretrial list was addressed, defense lawyer Keith Harbison asked for a routine continuance on behalf of his client.
O’Neill told Harbison that he wouldn’t have had to wait around to handle that simple transaction.
“And miss the whole show?” Harbison said with quick wit.
That about summed it up for this day in court! Harbison wins Quote of the Day.