The Decision


In any event, John talks slowly and asks many, many small, precise questions.  The standard laugh line around the Special Prosecutor’s Office is that Richard Sheeran’s trial should take three weeks but since John is prosecuting it, it will take three months.  Indeed, it does take three months.  The prosecutor puts on witness after witness—to which I am not privy.  A potential witness cannot sit in the courtroom and listen to other witnesses testify lest it taint the potential witness’s testimony.  I was supposed to have been the first witness; because of the hearing, I was the last witness.

The day comes when I get another call from Willie:  the judge wants to see me.  Ye gods.  I put on my testifying clothes—cream-colored shirt, khaki skirt and vest, and Bob’s wings—and go to the judge’s office in the courthouse.

When the governor appointed a special prosecutor, he also appointed a special judge.  State Supreme Court Justice Lyman Smith is also from outside Onondaga County, the aforementioned Penn Yan on Keuka Lake, and is semi-retired.  He is a great walrus of a man, having white hair and a big white mustache, and his considerable bulk being covered with a large black robe.  The prosecutors have concluded that he is smart and fair; they accept him as a good jurist.  Among other things, Judge Smith does not hang with the local crowd at all.  He eats his lunch in his office every day and then goes for a walk with his law clerk.  And now he wants to see me.

I am, as ever, petrified.  John and Willie have been preparing me for my trial testimony; they have not prepared me for a one-on-one with Judge Smith.  I am ushered into his office—high ceiling and dark paneling—and directed to a seat by the judge’s desk, which is also is big, dark and impressive.  Someone—a clerk or court recorder—is sitting somewhere behind me.  I face the judge in a state of panic.  He talks to me.  Justice Smith is nice, and kind. I start to tear up at one point and he assures me that they are not there to ruin my life.  Really?  You could have fooled me.

At some point he asks me to tell him what happened that day in Richard Sheeran’s office.  I knew I wasn’t supposed to tell the doctor but I haven’t gotten any guidelines about this.  Thinking fast (I am really good at this) I conclude that if the Supreme Court justice sitting on the case asks for my testimony then I probably should give it, even if it’s not in a courtroom in front of the accused and his attorney.  So I tell my little story, ending with the infamous “Now you can say you’ve had your first shakedown.”

The judge looks at his clerk and gives a slight nod.  This is what it’s all about.  This is what the prosecution wants to put before the jury.  This is why we’ve had this long hearing that went on all summer.

Then the judge goes on the record and issues his order on the hearing:  he will permit the defense to bring in the fact of my hospitalizations but not the substance.

I am dismissed from the judge’s presence and make a beeline for the prosecutor’s office where John and Willie await me.  I tell them the judge’s decision.  John looks at me long and thoughtfully and then slowly and carefully says that it’s the first time he’s ever had a witness deliver a judge’s order.  And then we go for one final round of trial preparation.  This is it; this is final:  I will testify the next day.  Back at work, they ask me how many days my testimony will last.  Days?  Minutes!

I arrive at the courthouse and am directed to a waiting room behind the courtroom.  I wait, and then am called into the courtroom.  It is a terrible shock to see that the courtroom is packed; there isn’t even any standing room available.  Reporters and a sketch artist are in front on the left.   And the first two rows in the center are occupied by the entire staff of the District Attorney’s Office.  They have done this to rattle me—put all the people I used to work with in the front rows.  Attorney David Howe is slid forward on the bench, aggressively leaning toward me.

When I worked in the Grand Jury Unit, David was one of my superiors and used to tell me what to do.  During that time, my roommate got married and I advertised for a new roommate.  One of the people who came to interview was David’s wife.  She was leaving him but he didn’t know it yet.  I went to work the next day knowing what he didn’t know.  In the courtroom, seated near David, was mousy Judy, my self-righteous co-secretary in the Grand Jury Unit.  I used to tell one of my friends stories about Judy then one day my friend asked, “How old is she?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “twenty-four maybe?”

My friend gasped and said, “All this time, the things you’ve told me about her attitudes and opinions, I thought she was middle-aged!”

So there were David and Judy and the entire staff of the District Attorney’s Office.  I wanted to yell at them to go back to work.  They were being paid to serve the people, not sit on their butts and watch a trial.  They were there to shake me up, but it didn’t work.  All I had to do was not look at them.  Seated further back in the courtroom were Dr. Grace Healy and Bob.  Grace was director of the Civic Literacy Project; Bob was a participant in the project, and husband of Evelyn, who worked for the project and was part of the Citizen Power group.  Grace was projecting her 1000-kilowatt smile of support.  I couldn’t look at her, either, or I’d break up.

Richard Sheeran was seated behind the defense table.  So, finally.  After all this—the shakedown, the grand jury testimony, the indictment and arrest and hearing—we come face to face again.  The accused has the right to confront the witnesses against him.  He is the accused; I am the witness.  We face each other.  Big whoop.  We are a couple of plastic chess pieces to be moved around the board in an enormous game of The People versus the conspiracy to steal democracy.

 All people share the right and the responsibility to make the decisions that affect their lives together.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
This entry was posted in Onondaga County, political corruption, Power, Powerlessness, Republican Party, Values and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Decision

  1. Piracetam says:

    The Centre County District Attorney’s office is comprised of seven assistant prosecutors, two victim witness advocates, and seven support staff. We are committed to seek justice for victims of crime; to create a safer community through positive partnerships with law enforcement and community members, and to earn and hold the trust and respect of the citizens that we are privileged and honored to serve.

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