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Some advice if you're heading to court...

Have you ever seen the outside of a courthouse on Monday morning? Truly, it is an assemblage of the damned. It’s possible only police detectives dress in a worse manner, but those worthies strut around like they’re armed, and most people don’t notice their cheap, ill-fitting suits.


The chain-smoking rabble out front of the court, however, has got either its Sunday Best on – usually a cheap old suit they may have borrowed, or some clean jeans and a Tarocash shirt – or they’ve decided to go against their lawyer’s instructions to “Look respectable” cos they all gangsta and shit, and they’re rocking an outsize Chicago Bulls singlet, some baggy pants, and sneakers that are obviously stolen because the defendant is unemployed and could certainly not ever buy a pair of Adidas Yeezy 350 V2s. In that case, it’s a fair bet his lawyer is chain-smoking too.


I cannot speak to what the ladies choose to wear, but if I can presume to offer some entirely unsolicited advice, try and keep the whole “dank slut” in a tight little black dress schtick to a minimum, ladies.


These people are verily the damned and the accursed.


I know this for several reasons. The primary one is that I have been one of them on far too many occasions. I have dressed in suits, and I have worn full battle-rattle outlaw colours because “Fuck you, lawyer! Don’t tell me what to do!” The suit outcomes have invariably been more positive. Magistrates and judges tend to hate you less if you make an effort. It shows respect to the court. They like that.


I have also been a paralegal for one of Sydney’s best criminal lawyers, and attended upon him in several appearances. Most of the time I just did photocopying, fetched coffee, and pushed files around on trolleys.


But I am a most observant monkey and the times I was permitted to sit in on meetings with defendants, I paid very close attention to how the lawyers prepared for battle.


I was told several times by the legendary barrister, Robert Somosi, that I would make a great barrister and that he would assist me should I choose to pursue a legal career. He then got disbarred for not paying his taxes for 16 years (not all that uncommon in that echelon of the legal fraternity), and I chose not to pursue a legal career because I got a job at The Picture Magazine and that looked to be much more fun.


That is not to say lawyers and barristers don’t have fun. They do. Some of the best parties I have ever been to have been at various Barrister Chambers around Sydney. I truly had no idea that a goodly amount of Judge’s Assistants loved cocaine and hugely enjoyed dancing on desks in their heels and underpants.


Of course, when it comes to court, then it’s all business. And rightly so.


And as far as you, the defendant, is concerned, it is very serious business. I also know this because I have faced very serious charges in the past. I was looking at big gaol-time – around the eight-year mark times two. Two charges of Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm is no laughing matter. It tends to stress a man out some.


But apart from that, there have been two DUIs, one of which was a high-range jobbie with a Speed Dangerous charge attached to it – and there was talk of me going to live in another country if the full weight of the law fell upon my stupid head for that. Happily, it did not after my legal counsel performed all sorts of high-level lawyering sorcery.


Along with that serious stuff, I have fronted court numerous times on all sorts of smaller charges – almost entirely to do with trying to retain my licence. Much of which involved me abasing myself before His or Her Honour, while my lawyer handed up character reference after character reference, and tried to make speeches before being told to sit down because His or Her Honour had heard enough.


But familiarity with the system has never bred any contempt for it in me. I have never been more scared, or felt more helpless, alone, and utterly confused, than I have when standing before the bench. The crushing realisation that this man or woman – who’d barely even looked at me – now has the course of my life in their hands.

I also know the Prosecutor is a creature without mercy, pity, or parents, but at local or district level in the court system, usually without any great legal skill either. Things change as you climb higher and the prosecutors in say, the Supreme Court, are pretty damn good at their job. And their job is to have you convicted.


You must also always understand the following important things if you’re ever placed before a magistrate or a judge, reeking of sin and evil, with your eyes downcast or darting around in rodent-terror…


It does not matter what the cops know. It only matters what they can prove in court. This is why you’re always told to never speak to them. Ever. Don’t speak to them before they arrest you and for fuck’s sake do not speak to them after they arrest you. It’s such a simple thing, and yet so few people do it.


No-one in that courtroom, apart from your family or girlfriend, gives any kind of shit about you, your feelings, or your fears. And that almost always includes your lawyer – especially if he is court-appointed. You are nothing but a number that requires processing.


It’s not too late to say sorry, and mean it. Contrition is viewed favourably and it may have some impact on what happens at sentencing. It will make no difference to you being found guilty or innocent. Innocent people do not need to be contrite, remember?


Lawyers work in the Local courts and the District courts, but you’re almost always better off with a barrister. There’s a reason they get paid $15,000 a day. Your lawyer will advise you if senior counsel is needed in your case.


Once you have entered the system, you have no control. The course of your life can be changed in a second – and often is. This is truly terrifying when you think about it. And I have seen on many occasions the hardest of men, crying like babies in their lawyer’s office and begging him to “fix this”.


In terms of “fixing this”… well, sometimes it can be fixed and other times it can’t. You’ve fucked the porcupine, and now you have to pay for that.


If you’re called upon to testify, answer only the questions you’re asked. Do not elaborate. Look at the magistrate or the judge, even if they are not looking at you. They usually will when you’re talking. They do this to measure you and the evidence you give.


If you choose to represent yourself, understand the court will give you some leeway to make a plate full of dicks out of your defence. But it is in your best interests in terms of a good outcome if you have a lawyer. A good one. Yes, they are hard to find and yes, Shakespeare did feel that killing them all first would be grand idea. And yes, we can all hate on them and curse them, and wish they would catch fire, the filthy money-grubbing bastards that they are. Until you need one. And they help you. And then you will suck him off and name your first-born after him.


The only other thing I can tell you is when fronting court, dress nice. Follow protocol and bow when you enter the court and leave the court. You don’t really have to bow when they lead you away in chains, so there is that if you’re feeling all gangster.


But I think the best thing I can tell you is to do everything you can not to ever have to go to court in the first place. It sucks on every level you can imagine.

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Boris Mihailovic

Boris is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.

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