Almost a year to the day – the first Tuesday in August – that I was to appear in traffic court in Rumford, my husband did. My plea to reduce the $185 speeding fine was going to be that in all the years I’d been driving I’d never, never been stopped for speeding.

That is, of course, not the same as never speeding.

But I missed my day in court because I was making beds in a camp on a pond nearby for children and grandchildren and forgot all about the court date. $185 please.

Jim did not forget his day in court. Outcome: good. Experience: fascinating.

“We get about 50 to a 100 cases,” my court contact told me. “It’s like the ER, you never know what’s coming in the door. And we have to hear them all in just three hours.” Here’s how it goes. The judge addresses the assembled traffic violators. Last week Judge John McElwee, one of five judges for our region (Farmington, Lewiston, South Paris, Rumford), was assigned to the Rumford court session. He explained that anyone not satisfied with the decision of the assistant district attorney who would hear each plea could stay on and talk with the judge. Last Tuesday, only one of the 50 or so plaintiffs chose to do so.

Then began the calls, first an “A” name, then a “Z” name, and so on. If your last name began with “M,” you would be among the last to be heard.

So much to see, hear

And so it was.

Boring? Not for a second, not if you’re a people watcher, eaves-dropper, and architecture buff. One of the handsomest rooms in the state of Maine, the Rumford courtroom is an amalgam of decorative styles, Greek meanders and all. The wall behind the judge’s bench bears a huge mural: Moses handing down the Ten Commandments, one of a number done for courthouses in Western Maine and fittingly grim.

Most plaintiffs appeared in traffic court in the kind of garb seen everywhere but church and school these days. (Our schools do have dress codes, I’ve learned.)

“It would be better if people bothered to dress up a little,” my court contact told me. Now and then the judge will tell a guy wearing a T-shirt with foul or threatening words emblazoned on it “to leave the courtroom, and put that T-shirt inside out before returning to the court room.”

My court source, who requested anonymity, briefed me on the Rumford District Court’s jurisdiction: all the River Valley towns and others, including Bethel. While traffic violations court sessions take place just every other month, the court bustles with all kinds of cases, divorce, small claims, custody, real estate disputes.

Except for juvenile cases, court sessions are open to visitors and observers. High school civics classes often visit the court “on the day we’re doing arraignments. Better,” my source remarked, “to come as a spectator….”

If you’d like a look at the law playing out in the court room, call 364-7171.

Last Friday afternoon – it rained that day, too – I called the weather station in Gray to find out for all of us just how wet this summer has been compared to say, August 1973, when, day after rainy day encamped by the Ellis River, we heard President Nixon say it wasn’t so.

No one answered the phone till Eddie came on and explained that all the staff were dealing with flooding. “I heard your call coming in but I was taking a report of a wash-out on Route 302.” I beat a hasty telephone retreat.

Linda Farr Macgregor is a freelance writer from Rumford.

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