I suppose it was only a matter of time before an exchange in Yorkton court would remind me of one of my favourite movies of all time.
The film is the classic 1992 comedy My Cousin Vinny starring Joe Pesci, Ralph Macchio and Marisa Tomei in which two young New Yorkers, Bill Gambini (Macchio) and Stan Rothenstein (Mitchell Whitfield) are mistaken for another pair of men who robbed a convenience store and killed the clerk in Beechum County, Alabama.
Specifically, the scene that came to mind on Monday is the arraignment hearing when Vinny Gambini (Pesci), an inexperienced and rough-around-the-edges New York lawyer makes his first appearance in court before Judge Chamberlain Haller (played by the late, great character actor of Munsters fame, Fred Gwynne). When Haller asks Vinny how his clients plead a very funny exchange ensues as Vinny repeatedly tries to explain to the judge why the two youths (or ‘yutes’ as Vinny pronounces it much to Haller’s confusion and irritation) should not be facing the charges at hand.
Finally, the judge loses all patience and says:
“Once again, the communication process has broken down between us. It appears to me that you want to skip the arraignment process, go directly to trial, skip that, and get a dismissal. Well, I’m not about to revamp the entire judicial process just because you find yourself in the unique position of defending clients who say they didn’t do it.”
Yorkton judge Patrick Koskie could have easily issued a similar admonishment to Clark Protz and a friend who had come along to help on Monday. Protz was appearing on his own behalf to make a not guilty plea and elect a trial by judge and jury at Court of Queen’s Bench in a marijuana trafficking case, but the two men proceeded to express outrage at the Crown’s case, call the RCMP’s evidence into question, express disillusionment with the fairness of the system and ask how they would go about getting the original arrest thrown out.
In an earlier scene from My Cousin Vinny, Haller warns Vinny not to take the Alabama justice system lightly.
“You being from New York and all, might have the impression that law is practiced with a degree of informality here. It isn’t,” he said. “I tell you this because I want you to know when it comes to procedure, I’m not a patient man.”
Fortunately for Protz and friend, our real-life judge is not nearly as ornery as his fictional counterpart from the movie. He did, however, repeatedly advise Protz to get a lawyer. I thought I could feel Koskie’s impatience—or maybe I was simply projecting my own impatience on him—but the point is that a Monday morning plea hearing (which is roughly the equivalent of an arraignment in the U.S.) is not the time to be attempting to make your case. A lawyer knows this.
The smooth administration of justice depends on strict adherence to procedure, which, of course, can be very frustrating for people eager to prove their innocence.
Koskie explained that it would be a long time in this case before the defence would have the opportunity to introduce the kinds of arguments Protz and friend were trying to bring forward Monday.
Exhibiting much more patience than the fictional judge, Koskie did not accept the plea and election giving Protz another month to reconsider defending himself by adjourning the case to August 26.
The accused would be well-advised to do so. The charge of possession for the purpose of trafficking is serious business in Canada these days, particularly after changes to the Criminal Code introducing mandatory minimum sentences went into effect last year.
Personally, I would not want to step into court without the best legal representation money can buy.
Protz may well have a legitimate defence, but before he gets to it there will be another plea hearing, a preliminary inquiry, maybe a charter challenge and probably some other hearings and meetings.
In My Cousin Vinny, after Bill and Stan’s preliminary inquiry (called a pre-trial in the States), Stan calls Vinny to task for not asking the witnesses any questions.
“Damn it, Vinny! Maybe if you’d put up some kind of a fight, you could have gotten the case thrown out!” Stan said, to which Vinny replies: “Hey, Stan, you’re in Ala-[expletive deleted]-bama. You come from New York. You killed a good ol’ boy. There is no way this is not going to trial!”
Saskatchewan may not be Alabama, and marijuana isn’t murder, but there is no way this case is not going to trial.