The Case of the Jaywalking Judge

There's a little restaurant across from New Bedford's Probate Court, which was formerly Third District Court). Through the years, many different kinds of food have been served there under various owners and various names.

Back in the mid-1960s, it was a fairly standard lunch counter type of place serving standard American fare: Hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, various sandwiches, French fries, chips, salad, and so forth.

And that's why no one ever gets ticketed for jaywalking in New Bedford anymore.

Oh, wait … I left out some details.

I believe it was in 1965 that an anti-jaywalking ordinance was brought before the City Council. It became a very contentious issue. A few councilors felt that it would violate the God-given right of every red-blooded American citizen to cross any street anywhere he damn pleases. The proponents, of course, were lily-livered, bleeding-heart liberals willing to sacrifice that God-given right on the altar of public safety.

Opponents used every parliamentary trick they could to delay a vote on the ordinance and draw out the debate, so it went on through several council sessions before jaywalking officially became illegal in New Bedford.

The Standard-Times covered the whole controversy very thoroughly and, when a ticket was issued to a perpetrator of jaywalking for the first time, a reporter was sent to cover the judicial festivities to round out the entire story.

The chief judge of Third District Court was Ernest Horrocks. I don't know how it's done nowadays, but back then most district court cases were prosecuted by a police officer and they were pretty much cut-and-dried. This one was expected to be the same.

The police prosecutor drily recited the details of the case (that's how it was usually done, no swearing-in of witnesses and no formal testimony): The defendant was observed crossing Acushnet Avenue in the middle of the block where there is no marked pedestrian crosswalk …

Judge Horrocks was puzzled. "What law is the defendant accused of violating?"

"It's the new anti-jaywalking ordinance, your honor."

"If you have a copy handy, I'd like to read it."

The police prosecutor produced a copy of the ordinance from his clipboard. Judge Horrocks read it and glared at the prosecutor.

"Every day, I eat at the little restaurant across the street," he said. "I leave the court through the Pleasant Street door and go directly across. If I read this ordinance correctly, it would require me to walk to the corner, cross the street there, and then walk back down to the restaurant. Is that correct?"

"Yes, your honor."

"That's ridiculous! I refuse to find anyone guilty of violating such a ridiculous ordinance." He banged his gavel. "Case dismissed."

You see, to Judge Horrocks, neither God-given right nor public safety was the overriding issue. Convenience was the ruling judicial principle in the case at hand.

So far as I know, the ordinance is still on the books. And, so far as I know, no one else has ever been cited for violating it.

Next: A photo shoot is interrupted by ravenous gulls.
Seagulls Don't Have No Etiquette