My Day in Court

A typical courtroom in Alameda County

A typical courtroom in Alameda County

One of the key scenes in Committed, which is Book Two of my Oaktown Girls series of lesbian romances, happens in the Family Courthouse in Hayward, California. The scene I was researching takes place specifically in the courtroom where judges hear cases regarding restraining orders and the like. It was a place I’d never been and I really knew nothing about it.

I actually began this research journey on a Tuesday afternoon,, not knowing what to expect. In fact, I was a little nervous. Perhaps I’d be discovered just ‘hanging around’ and somehow arouse suspicion. Or worse, maybe I’d get roped into spontaneous jury duty.

So I slipped into a courtroom in the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse in Oakland as discreetly as I could. Being a legal system newbie, I had no idea I was in entirely the wrong courthouse. Turned out there was a lot to learn. I asked, then I asked, then I asked again until I was directed into sort of the right courtroom.

After peering through the window in the door to make sure the public was allowed to enter, I slipped in to a bench near the back. The judge, an older man with horn-rimmed glasses, was presiding over the very end of a case in his black robes. He was busily clarifying things with the court stenographer, declaring the case closed. The room emptied out shortly after I arrived. Suddenly it was just me, still sitting there on my bench, and the judge. I really wasn’t sure what to do next.

“What are you doing here?” he finally asked.

When I explained I was researching a novel, he smiled. “Interesting,” he said. And we chatted for a moment about the correct courthouse I needed to hear restraining order cases, and the best time to go. Then I thanked him, and a moment later I slipped out the door.

But then, as I stepped into the elevator, a figure I hadn’t noticed hurried in beside me. It was my new best friend, the judge. “What else can I tell you?” he asked a little breathlessly. He had the air of a guy who hadn’t had anything different or new happen at work in a very long time, and he was eager to help. I smiled at him. This was just what I came for.

We ended up walking through the labyrinth of corridors underneath the courthouse as we both worked out ways back to our cars. And we chatted. He told me about life as a judge. (“After a while, it’s remarkably routine.”) And I told him about my life as a novelist. (“There’s no end to the stuff I’ve got to learn to pull off these crazy ideas I get in my books.”) We both admired each other’s interesting lines of work. Then he asked me the question on everyone’s mind: “You think this is going to be made into a movie?”

The judge gave me a few good tips on where to find a decent sandwich near the courthouse, as well as parking advice. And so we went our separate ways.

I have to say, such encounters are one of the many things that make writing fiction such a joy. There are so many fascinating people to discover, and so many things to learn about, and weave into stories. I am grateful for every last bit of it!

PS. When I did make it to the correct courthouse the next day, I got just what I needed, parking was a dream, and the sandwiches were just right. I have to say, it was utterly perfect … thanks to my new best friend.

Suzanne FalterComment