The American justice system is designed to protect the rights of every citizen with no consideration given to gender, race, or social standing. Even those accused of the most heinous crimes are entitled to legal counsel and a fair trial.
Or so we were told in high school civics class.
But it’s no secret that justice is not dispensed evenly in our court system. Some can afford the very best in legal representation (some even contribute to the election campaigns of judges). Others must rely on understaffed, underpaid public defenders for their legal counsel.
Despite what we learned in school, it’s not a level playing field.
Monroe resident Lester Paster is learning that the hard way.
Before we go any further, it should be pointed out that Paster is not a criminal and his skirmishes with the law are misdemeanors and have been relegated to Monroe City Court.
City court isn’t exactly the Supreme Court, but the court level isn’t supposed to matter. (Sheldon Cooper, everyone’s favorite nerd on The Big Bang Theory, in one of the funnier episodes of that show, referred to a traffic court judge as presiding over “the kiddie table” of his profession, a remark that landed him in a holding cell for a while.)
Paster, who picketed Monroe City Court nearly 19 years ago, on July 9, 1997, was cited for LA. R.S. 14:401, which prohibits “Demonstrations in or near building housing a court of occupied as residence by judge, juror, witness or court officer.”
For violating that obscure law, he was sentenced to a fine of $50. In default of payment, he was sentenced to 30 days in jail with all but five days suspended.
He appealed and the Second Circuit Court of Appeal noted that the offense carries a fine of up to $5,000 or imprisonment of up to one year, or both.
A defendant charged with a misdemeanor in which the punishment may be a fined in excess of $1,000 or imprisonment for more than six months “shall be tried by a jury of six jurors, all of whom must concur to render a verdict,” the First Circuit decision said.
The appeal court further said the defendant “Must have been advised of and waived his right to a jury trial before proceeding to trial” and that the accused in a criminal proceeding “has the right to assistance of counsel for his defense.”
Because the record failed to reflect that Paster was advised of his right to legal counsel or of his right to a trial by jury or that he ever waived those rights, the Second Circuit set aside Paster’s conviction and sentence and remanded it back to Monroe City Court “for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”
That opinion was handed down on Dec. 22, 1997. http://veterans4justice.org/Appeal_Judgement.html
So what has happened to Paster’s case in the ensuing 18 years, four months?
Well, no one seems to know.
Paster has checked with the Monroe City Court clerk but the clerk’s office doesn’t seem to have any record of his case. No record of his trial and no record of the Second Circuit’s decision.
“My entire record has disappeared,” Paster told LouisianaVoice.
It’s not the kind of sloppy record keeping that one would think the Second Circuit would take lightly.
What’s the statute of limitations on a misdemeanor?