My Day in Court
Home Up

Rick Archer, October 2006

On Thursday, October 12, I had the opportunity to spend four hours in Municipal Court observing how justice is handled here in Houston, Texas.

I was there to dispute a ticket I had received for placing heavy trash in front of my house prior to pickup time.  I thought this ticket had been given to me in error so  I intended to have my say in court.  Little did I know I would have to wait 4 hours. 

They say you can't fight City Hall. 

Throughout the day I was given several very interesting lessons on the possible origins of this saying.


On Thursday, June 15, as I pulled into my garage, I noticed what looked like a ticket hanging next to the doorbell.  I frowned.  I had a bad feeling about this ticket. 

A few years back, there had been a stoppage in the city sewer line in the easement behind my house.  The easiest way to reach the problem was to come through my yard.   Normally my fence keeps my home fairly inaccessible.  However of course I opened up my yard to facilitate repairs. 

That day while the men were back there with their heavy equipment fixing the problem, some city inspector decided to come into my back yard and have a look around. 

He discovered some old dog poop mixed in with the leaves in my mulch pile.  I had no idea that's a big no-no.  

A simple warning would have been sufficient, but out came the ticket book.  That unpleasant incident set me back $350.

This experience left me with a deep distrust of all people who work for the city, a feeling that remains to this day.  Currently here in the Heights where I live, we have the Graffiti Police. 

Graffiti is a big problem in our area.  Some genius came up with a great idea... wherever graffiti was found, why not fine the victims a few hundred bucks for failing to remove the graffiti?

In other words, rather than set up some traps to catch the kids who are causing the problem, instead they hired the Graffiti Police to drive around the neighborhood every day looking for residents like me to fine $500. 

My fence gets hit every couple months or so. As a result, I keep a wood sander handy at all times. I run outside at the first chance I get and sand it off (see my handiwork).   

Now you know why I am suspicious of city authorities. 

The first thing I did with my ticket was try to figure out what I had done wrong. The ticket said I was being fined for allowing trash to remain at curbside.  I scratched my head.  I had not left any trash at curbside.  But I had a pretty good idea what trash they were talking about.   My next door neighbor had put some trash out some time ago, but I had not paid any attention to it till now.

I looked at the ticket a little closer.  The court was a long way away.  I could give up my entire afternoon, drive 20 miles across Houston to 8300 Mykawa, then take my chances arguing my case in court.  Or I could pay a $233 fine and get it over with. 

I was innocent, but a little voice told me it might be easier just to pay the money.

A couple days later, I saw my next door neighbor.  Without telling him about my ticket, I asked him what the story was on the trash.

He frowned.  He said the stupid garbage people had skipped their scheduled pickup last week.  He said no one got their trash picked up on the scheduled day.

He said it was easier to simply leave the trash there than haul it back inside, then haul it out again.  I nodded in agreement. 

Then he pointed around the neighborhood.  Sure enough, everywhere I looked, there was a pile of heavy trash sitting next to the sidewalk.  So I got in my car and took some pictures.  Every one of the 6 pictures below was taken within two blocks of my house.

I thought about why I had been ticketed.   After all, the trash was not in front of my house.  That didn't make any sense.  Why was I given the ticket and not my neighbor who was responsible?

The more I thought about it, I decided the odd set-up of my home was the reason behind the mix-up.  I have a very unusual home.  For example, there is no front door visible from the street.   I enclosed my front door several years ago with a garage.  For safety reasons I prefer to use my garage as the entrance to my front door. 

Many years ago my house was broken into three times in less than a year.  On the final visit, they literally backed up a van to my front door and stuffed everything into it they could. After that experience, I decided to make my home more secure.  In addition to adding the garage, I built a large fence around my home.   So far (knock on wood), this strategy has been very effective. 

Sad to say, I believe my decision has cost me any opportunities to win local home beauty contests.  From the street, no one has a clue what my house looks like!  


Before we go much further, let's pretend you are the City Trash Inspector.  You have witnessed a terrible crime: illegal trash!! 

In order to protect the community, it is your job to punish the evil doers. But first you must decide which house the trash belongs to. 

The trash is situated equidistant between two garages. 

Is it the house on the right with the car in the open garage or the one on the left with the closed garage door?  You will get the answer in a minute.





Now let's have a look at the original problem.  I have a very unusual lot.  In the picture ABOVE, you can see that my property starts at my garage and extends to the corner at the end of the street.

As you can see in the picture BELOW, the trash pile was equidistant between my house at 608 and my neighbor's house at 614.   I imagine the Trash Violation Inspector was unable to figure out that the trash belonged to 614.

I can see where someone might get confused.   Not only does the fence disguise the house behind it, I guess that large bush at the left might have confused her as well.   This picture shows there is no obvious reason to decide which garage "owned the trash".   Despite my irritation, it seemed like an honest mistake.



Of course I didn't want to pay the $233 fine.  But it looked like the only way I could contest the issue was to go to court. 

The more I thought about it, I wanted to contest the fine.  After all, how hard would it be to win this one? 

This was a no-brainer. 

1)  It wasn't my trash to begin with. 
2)  The trash was not in front of my house. 
3)  I was not responsible for the trash in any way.

All I had to do was make the 20 mile drive to Mykawa, explain the problem to someone with common sense and the whole thing would be resolved.


My court date was originally set for August 22nd.  I was leaving on a cruise trip on the 26th. Knowing I would be pressed for time trying to get my studio's Newsletter out before the cruise trip, I called to reschedule. 

In the mail, I received a notice of "Trial by Judge" at the Mykawa location with the new date, October 12.

As the October date approached, I was sick in my stomach.  I was in the middle of writing two cruise stories for the October/November Newsletter.   Now I was forced to give up prime writing time in the middle of the afternoon in order to clear up some city employee's mistake.  I already regretted giving up such valuable time.


Leaving my house at 1:15 pm, I arrived at Houston Municipal Court 14 promptly at 2 pm.  The court was presided over by Judge Kathy Han. 

I would estimate there were about 50 defendants in the room. Starting around 2:20 pm, Judge Han called out names.  I acknowledged my presence.    

As you might guess, none of these people looked very happy to be there.  One woman entered the room crying.  She was accompanied by a man.  After she sat down, she buried her head while the man frowned.

I really had no idea what to expect.  Since I am not in court nearly as often as is rumored, I was curious to see how things operated.  Now that the docket had been called, one by one people from the group were asked to come up.

I discovered these people were not going up to speak to the judge.


These people were directed to a woman I named the "Mysterious Docket Lady" (MDL).   I never quite figured out who she was, what she was, how much authority she had, or what. 

Was she an attorney?  Was she the prosecutor? 

I did grasp that she was important. When their names were called, people went to her instead of the judge to discuss their case.  Ms. MDL ran the preliminary show while Judge Han quietly watched the proceedings. 

As I waited... and waited... and waited, I played computer chess. 

This mind-occupying activity kept my legendary impatience under control.  Before the day was out, I would win six different games.  I would have gone nuts without my little chess friend.

I was surprised to see no one was doing anything with their time except sit there.  No newspapers, no magazines, no nothing.  Some people stared at their tickets or their notes regarding the case from time to time, but that was about it. 

I was the only person in the room with a coat and tie on.  I also noted I was the only person in the room with a laptop.  

Why was that?  Where were the other professionals?  

I grimly speculated that all people with enough money to wear a coat and own a laptop probably also had enough sense to cut their losses and pay the fine by mail and get it over with.   Their time was more valuable.

Guilty or not guilty, who cares?  Chalk it up to bad luck, pay the fine, cut your losses and save some precious time.  At this thought, I began to feel I had made the wrong decision to come here today.


Finally around 3:15, my name was called.  Like a fool, I assumed that this was my chance to clear up the misunderstanding and go home. 

I stood before the Mysterious Docket Lady.  I started to explain the problem, but Ms. MDL asked me to be quiet while she explained my options.  She began by saying that she was willing to reduce my fine to $100.  I said that would not be acceptable.   She frowned and said I could have a trial... I immediately said 'yes, I would like a trial'. 

She frowned at me again and chided me to let her finish.  'Are you going to listen or not?'  Ms. MDL said that since I wanted to contest the fine, she recommended I reset the trial to a later date and get an attorney. 

Privately, I was appalled at this suggestion.  Why in the world would I hire an attorney?  It would have been cheaper just to pay the hundred bucks and get out of there! 

Furthermore, by forcing me to come back, Ms. MDL was penalizing me with a second trip.  Now I would be wasting two days.

I was already angry at myself for blowing an entire afternoon in order to stand up for my rights.  Why the heck would I want to postpone this nonsense to a later date?  I wanted to get this over with!!

I told Ms. MDL that I would rather not make this so complicated. I added that if she would allow me to explain, this whole thing could be put to rest quickly.  

She ignored what I said.  Ms. MDL wanted me to listen to her, but she wasn't willing to listen to me.  I seethed at this obvious disdain.

Instead Ms. MDL asked if I fully understood the consequences of having a trial. 

I stared at her, but said nothing.  There was something in her tone that gave me pause.  Ms. MDL said if I had a trial with the judge and if the judge ruled against me, I would be expected to pay a $2,000 settlement PLUS court fees which I estimated at another couple hundred bucks. 

My eyes narrowed.   This woman was playing a very nasty game. 

Two thousand dollars was a lot of money to risk against one hundred bucks.   The possibility crossed my mind that these people had a nasty little shakedown going on.  Was this event really about justice or was it a charade designed to fill the city coffers?

I glanced around the court.  There were a lot of poor people in this room.   How many of these people were in a position to take the chance of betting $2,000 against the fairness of a judge they didn't know?  Was this woman judge lenient?  Was she harsh?  And how many people were confident about getting a fair shake when this MDL woman kept barking 'you better get a lawyer, you better get a lawyer'?

I didn't know about anyone else in that room, but suddenly my confidence was shaken.  I openly admit I was very intimidated!! 

Look at it this way - I was standing there with an airtight case plus I had the money in the bank to cover my bet in case things went horribly wrong, but even with the winning hand that I held, I had become very worried.  So if I was scared, how were these other people feeling?   Helpless, maybe?   As I listened to this hostile woman intimidate me with her threats of a fine escalating to $2,000 and her warnings to get a lawyer, nausea gripped my stomach.  Was this a court of law or was it a kangaroo court?  I began to wonder just what kind of justice was being dispensed in this room.

I told myself to get a grip.  No matter how much this woman threatened me, I couldn't see any way I was going to lose this case.  I was INNOCENT, for crying out loud! 

I had come this far, so I decided to stick to my guns.  I told the woman I would not plead my case.  I said I wanted to have the judge hear my case.  Ms. MDL frowned and told me to go sit down.

I returned to my seat completely rattled.  No computer chess for a while!  I could barely think straight.  First I had to regain some confidence.  As I sat in the back of the room, I watched as one person after another came back to their seat complaining about their treatment at the hands of Ms. MDL.  She held all the cards.  

One guy sitting nearby was beet red with anger as he explained to his wife, "Hell, I don't have $2,000 to fight this!" 

I paled as I overheard that his dispute revolved around some garbage-related problem.  He was in the same boat as I was.  I got the feeling this garbage ticket racket must be paying a lot of the salaries in this room.   Whoever said trash was worthless had never met these people. 

Trash was license to print money in this place.


I am a born worrier.  As time went by, it was getting harder and harder to keep my fears at bay.  All sorts of bizarre possible outcomes kept creeping into my mind.

I remembered the time when I was a kid (11) and I cut my knee open playing touch football.  It was on the weekend so my mother took me to the Emergency Room at Ben Taub to get it stitched up.  They told me to sit down and wait.  Here I was with a bleeding knee, no big deal, when they brought this guy in screaming with pain. He was vomiting blood everywhere.  Then this lady had an epileptic seizure - a bad one - right in front of my eyes. To top it off, they brought in this guy on a stretcher with a gunshot wound to his head.  There was a huge purple welt where the bullet when in!  

I hadn't been scared when I entered the ER, but now I was crying because I was scared out of my wits!

I snapped back to the present.   The parallels between the hospital emergency room and this courtroom were obvious.  I didn't have anywhere near the problems the other people in this courtroom did, but I was still deeply worried!   Their misery was infectious.  

People around me were crying.  Others were bitter.  Others simply went zombie and stared blankly into space.  Their problems began to affect me.   Why not just pay the stupid $100 and get out of here!

As my anxiety increased, I decided to take a chance.  I gathered up my laptop and my printed pictures, then walked up to Ms. MDL without being summoned.  I told her that I was innocent of the charges and that the ticket had gone to the wrong address.  I showed her the pictures of my house, of the trash, and pointed to the correct address.

Ms. MDL looked me over carefully.  I felt like I was being sized up.  She paused for a moment, then said, "Okay, if you will give us the name of the person who lives at that address, fill out an affidavit, and agree to appear in court as a witness when this person is summoned, I will dismiss your case."

I was stunned.  This woman was a perfect example of an old lawyer adage - '
99 percent of all lawyers give the rest a bad name'.  

Is this how American Justice works?  We will let you walk if you give us another victim!!  

I didn't need to stoop that low, but even more to the point, I didn't want to obligate myself to any further involvement.  I would be damned to do something that would give them a reason to make me come back here another time... and this woman knew it.

So I ignored her suggestion.  Instead I pointed to the pictures and said
I simply did not live at the house where the trash had been left.  Why couldn't we just wrap this up?

Ms. MDL said, "How do I know which house you live in?  How can I tell you don't live in the house behind that trash?"    She handed the pictures to a man next to her.  He agreed that the pictures were not sufficient to explain where my house was located behind the fence.

I had several pictures printed out, but I had even more pictures on the computer that I had brought along 'just in case'.  This seemed like a good time to use the extra pictures.  I offered to show her a couple pictures on the laptop to help buttress my argument.  She gave me a contemptuous look.  "We don't accept evidence from a computer in this courtroom."

I said some of the pictures on the computer showed how my property was shaped.  She gave me her 'didn't you hear me the first time?' look.  That's when I said if she didn't believe me, I would raise my right hand and swear I was telling the truth. 

Ms. MDL said, "Don't bother.  I'll let the judge handle this.  By the way, any pictures on the laptop are not admissible.  We only accept hard copies of pictures as evidence."   Then she gestured for me to sit down.

Now I was even more shaken.  Okay, so I'm not a lawyer.  Why was this case so serious that this woman resorted to hardball?  Ms. MDL seemed determined to extricate money out of me one way or the other. 

Given what MDL said, how was I supposed to prove what the two houses looked like behind the fence?  It had never dawned on me to take pictures inside the fence, but now it seemed like a pretty good idea.  But what good would it have done me... I probably would have kept the pictures on my computer. 

I could hear her words bounce back and forth in mind.... INADMISSIBLE EVIDENCE!!

And how was I supposed to prove I didn't live in the house directly behind that pile of trash?  As Ms. MDL put it, the pictures didn't prove a thing.  Looking at the pictures, my garage could just as easily belong to the house with the trash pile.  

Yes, there were pictures on my laptop that indicated how my property was shaped, but what good were they?  If these pictures were inadmissible like the woman said, how I was supposed to prove my innocence?

In this court, I was guilty.  They didn't have to prove I was guilty, I had to prove I was innocent... and they twisted the rules any way they could to win.

I had assumed that the pictures would be sufficient, so I did not think it necessary to bring along a witness.   But Ms. MDL had dismissed my pictures as worthless. 

Was she bluffing?  


Thirty minutes after my impromptu visit with Ms. MDL, Judge Han finally called me to come up.  I figured this was the showdown, but I was wrong. 

As I stood in front of her, Judge Han handed me a piece of paper.  She said if I wanted to have a trial, first I would have to sign this document.  Then Judge Han began to repeat everything Ms. MDL had said earlier.  First she reminded me that if she was forced to rule against me, I would be expected to pay $2,000 plus court fees.

Oh, so now court fees would be tacked on to the $2,000.  And how much more would the court fees be?   I decided not to ask.

Then Judge Han recommended I get a lawyer and reset the trial.  She said that since I was unfamiliar with how to present evidence, I could very well jeopardize my case.  She said it was not her responsibility to make allowances for my legal shortcomings.  I did not ask, but this sounded like judge-speak for no laptop pictures. 

"I strongly recommend you get a lawyer."

The thought crossed my mind that the legal profession had to love people like Judge Han and Ms. MDL.  With their 'strong advice', they were definitely putting money in some lawyer's pocket.  

But I saw things a different way.  What was the point of getting a lawyer?  I imagined the lawyer might cost me another $2,000.  Either way I would be out $2,000.  I might as well lose here today and get it over with. 

I replied that I was prepared to argue my case as best I could. 

Judge Han kept a straight face, but I thought I could discern a flicker of amusement in her eye.  My imagination was that when the cat plays with the helpless mouse, the cat enjoys an occasional twist to the game.  Makes it more interesting when someone fights back a little.  I imagined very few mice had the guts to play her game.

Judge Han then told me there was no court reporter.  This was new information to me.   She said that if she were to rule against me and that I wished to appeal, there were would be no record of what was said.  Did I wish for a court reporter to be present?  If so, she could delay the trial till they could obtain one or arrange a change of venue.  I said I was willing to trust her judgment and that I would waive my right to a court reporter. 

To myself, this seemed like an awful lot of fuss for a stupid trash ticket. 

It also occurred to me that whatever game these people played during the trial would NOT BE RECORDED.  Now isn't that interesting?  

Now Judge Han gave me another chance to throw in the towel.  She asked me for the second time if I was sure I wanted to go to trial on this issue, adding that I could still pay the fine if I wished.  I told Judge Han that I was innocent and that I wanted to take my chances with a trial.  I told her she seemed like a fair person to me and I would abide by her decision.  

Judge Han then asked if I felt she had explained my options to my satisfaction.   I had a vision of a guy going into heart surgery with the doctor saying, 'Are you sure you want to do this?'   It was obvious that Judge Han was trying to discourage me from having this trial.  I wondered what she knew that she was not telling me.  

Was this one of those games where I was in way over my head?

I was reminded of a helpless feeling I sometimes get when I play basketball.  Due to a childhood injury, I only have one eye. Therefore my peripheral vision is limited.  Whenever I catch a pass with my back to the basket, I have no way of knowing if my defender is near or not.

I hate getting my shot blocked.  So I always hesitate.  Rather than shoot the ball, I stand there and debate what to do.  Theoretically, this is the ideal position to shoot from.  However, due to my poor vision, I often hesitate to shoot because I fear what I can't see.  I have no idea where the defender is.  I am almost certain someone is hiding behind me just drooling at the chance to stuff my shot. 

At this moment in Judge Kathy Han's court of law, I had this exact same feeling.  I fear what I can't see and I fear what I don't know.  I was being forced to make a decision without knowing what I was up against.  And the constant hostility led me to believe that this playing field was badly tilted in their favor. 

This was THEIR GAME.  Was I making a big mistake?   After all, they kept warning me not to do this. 

Of course you the reader might think how unlikely it would be for me to actually lose this case.  After all, it wasn't my trash and it wasn't in front of my house.  But you weren't in that in courtroom! 

I was so intimidated by the double-team put on me by the MDL person and this Judge that I worried I might lose on some stupid technicality I didn't know about.  I cursed softly to myself.  Why the heck did the Judge keep telling me "Get a lawyer, get a lawyer"? 

What is it that I needed to know that I didn't know?   Doubts crept through my mind.  My ignorance of the law was killing me! 

I took a deep breath and looked at the Judge.  Her face was impassive.  She was waiting for me to make up my mind.  I thought to myself she had an excellent poker face.

As I stood there, I quickly went over my position once again.  That 'poker face' thought came up again. That is when a new idea crossed my mind.  Were they bluffing?  Was it possible Judge Han and Ms. MDL were simply giving me every opportunity to throw in my cards?

That thought gave me new courage.  Maybe there wasn't any legal technicality!  This had to be a game!  They had nothing to lose by scaring me, then giving me time to talk myself into folding!   If that was the case, believe me, it almost worked!

There was no way I was going to lose this case.  Besides, even in the unlikely event that everything went against me, I could afford to lose.  Yes, $2,000 was a ridiculous amount of money to lose considering how minor the problem was, but it would not be the end of the world for me. 

I wasn't going to jail if I lost. 

So why back down now?  

So I signed the form requesting a trial and went back to my seat. 


I was stunned when they began to call the 4 pm docket.  I had not even had my trial and now there were new people showing up.  How long was this going to take?   Was my trial going to be held at the end of the evening?

It was now 4:15 in the afternoon.  Counting drive time from home, I had now wasted over 3 hours of my day and there was no end in sight.  I had to go to work at 7 pm.  The thought of being forced to wait into the night almost broke me. 

I began to wonder just how ruthless these people were. How far would Ms. MDL take this?  She would do anything to win, wouldn't she?   Earlier I had regained my confidence, but now I lost it again.  If they weren't going to play fair, then what difference did it make how solid my case was?  I began to believe there was a good chance I was going to get railroaded.  I wondered how I would explain to my wife that I lost a slam dunk case and $2,000 in the process. 

Then it occurred to me this might make a good story.  And you can't have a good story without pictures, now can you? 

So I walked out of the room and reviewed the rules on the door.  No talking, no smoking, no cell phones, no this and no that, but nothing about cameras.  I looked again.  Nope, no rules on cameras.  I was certain that taking pictures would break some rule, but I had my alibi. 

So I walked back in and quickly took three pictures. 

I put the camera away and went back to my computer chess game.  Since I was sitting in the back of the room and most everyone had their back to me, I hoped that no one had noticed.  No such luck.  Five minutes after my photo shoot, Judge Han called to me.   I wasn't paying much attention, but when I heard something about 'you in the back', I looked up.  Now that she had my attention, Judge Han gestured for me to come forward.

I walked up and stood before Judge Han.  She asked me why I had taken pictures.   I said I had been there for three hours and wanted pictures to remember this incident.   Judge Han did not accept that answer.  She asked again why I had taken the pictures.   I said it was simply to capture the memory of the experience.   The Judge was clearly not satisfied with my answer.

Now she began to lecture me on my invasion of people's privacy. Then she said she was displeased that I had disrupted her courtroom.  I apologized and said I would not do it again.  I mentioned that I had not seen any rule forbidding such activity.  She frowned, then asked me a third time why I had taken the pictures.

I noticed a policeman nearby who seemed ready to come get me if I simply blinked wrong.  I wondered just how serious my mistake had been.  Now maybe I would end up in jail after all.  Maybe my wife would need to post bail.  Was I dreaming this?

I said I was sorry for the second time.  Judge Han continued to lecture me on how inappropriate my behavior had been.  Then abruptly she stopped and told me to sit down.  


My mood changed.  I had been afraid before, but now I felt defiant.  The fact that Judge Han was so concerned about the pictures actually made me feel better.  Furthermore I was shocked that she had not demanded I erase the pictures.  Was this a paper tiger?  I was the mouse that roared.  It felt good to fight back.

My bravado soon turned back to despair as the wait continued.  I don't know who told them my biggest weakness, but 'Waiting' is my Achilles Heel.  My patience had run out.  I honestly believed I was going to be stuck here till dark.  With that gloomy thought, I could feel myself visibly weakening with each click of the clock.  5 o'clock came and went.   5:15 came and went.  That was the four hour mark.  This ordeal was now up to four hours with no end in sight. 

At 5:30, Judge Han called me to come up.   This looked like the main event.  I asked if I could bring my laptop computer.  She said that would be okay.  My hopes immediately soared.

When I got to her bench, a short, thick woman wearing a uniform came up and stood at my side.  I had not previously noticed her in the courtroom, but I assumed she was the person who had written my ticket. 

Judge Han didn't waste any time.  She said she was dismissing the case.

I wasn't surprised.  The calmness in her expression had tipped me off.  She obviously didn't expect an argument from me.

My instincts told me the camera incident had been a turning point.  I don't know why, but once I survived the tongue-lashing, I had begun to sense with increasing certainty this event was a giant bluff.   They had tried to intimidate me on four different occasions, but I had stood my ground each time.  From that point on they let me sit and stew for another hour and a half.  I got the feeling that they had simply been waiting me out.  After all, the only other person who had asked for a trial had been called before Judge Han to wrap up his case well over an hour ago.  We had both come in at the same time.  That's what made me think this entire affair was quite likely a charade.

I figured that was it, but to my surprise, my conversation with the Judge wasn't over yet.  Judge Han had something very interesting to say.  She told me that the Prosecution had asked for a continuance in order to gather more evidence. 

I looked for Ms. MDL.  She had disappeared, probably to go home.

Are you people out of your mind?

I was dumbfounded.  Ask for a continuance?   Gather more evidence?   I don't want to go through this again!!  There's no way I want to come back here!

Was I the only person in the room who grasped the absurdity of this situation?  

We were locked in a debate over a victimless crime regarding a few pieces of wood discarded on my neighbor's yard. 

This was not OJ or Ted Bundy.  No damage.  No bloodshed.  No victim.  No one had even complained about the trash so it clearly wasn't bothering anyone.  Was it possible someone in this room was guilty of blowing this situation out of proportion?  Why ask for a continuance over a pile of wood that no one cared about?  

I knew the answer to that... this was a shakedown and they didn't want to let a single fish off the hook scot free.

I looked around for Ms. MDL again.  I wanted to ask her why she needed more evidence on a no-brainer case like this.  Let's wrap it up! 

That's when I noticed for the first time all day, Ms. MDL was nowhere in sight.  I assumed it was not a coincidence; she was probably mad she had not gotten her way when she asked the Judge for a continuance. 

Why bother sticking around to give me the satisfaction of seeing her discomfort over having one person stand their ground against her intimidation?

As I thought of her, it occurred to me that maybe there was another reason I had been kept waiting.  Maybe during the past hour Ms. MDL or someone else had been on the computer looking at city property records to determine if I was telling the truth or not.

Now I was angry.  I could not believe Ms. MDL actually had the nerve to ask the judge for permission to drag me back into court a second time without even giving a chance to speak my case while I was here!   Ms. MDL seemed willing to do anything to squeeze me.  

As if I hadn't waited in this courtroom long enough already, she wanted to put me through this ringer all over again! 

Judge Han noticed I was deep in thought.  She said for the second time that she had ruled against the request for a continuance.  But then she added another bombshell.  She said that even though she was dismissing my case, the City of Houston could reopen this case any time it wished.

That was the capper.  I smiled to myself.  Mind you, it wasn't a happy smile, but rather a twisted, ironic smile at the absurdity of the situation.  This was beyond bizarre. 

Was Judge Han afraid I would think I had won or something?   Be sure to twist him as much as possible.

She knew and I knew the chances of the City of Houston ever re-opening this stupid little case were slim and none.  But of course it was her duty to point it out. 

That's when I noticed the ticket woman next to me was glaring daggers at me.  She had her arms crossed and looked very angry.   Hmm.  Obviously this was another person who cared a lot more about this case than she should.  This woman did not like me. 

I looked at her and asked if she was the person who had written the ticket.  She nodded that I was correct, but said nothing.

I took my shot.  "Well, guess what, you made a mistake."   Her eyes fired some more darts at me.  But I knew she wasn't going to say anything in front of the Judge.  At least one person in the room had the sense to keep their mouth shut.

Then I turned my attention back to Judge Han.  I told her I did not wish for my case to stay open in any way.  I said I was prepared to go to trial and put this matter to rest.  I added that I had driven 20 miles and invested four and a half hours of my time in her court so I could clear this matter up.  Why not try the case and get it over with?  I said here I am; let's get it started.  I'm ready to give my testimony.

A person with any sense would have simply shut up long ago.  I knew I was pushing my luck, but then I have always disliked the indiscriminate use of authority.   I wondered how the Judge would react to my impertinence.  It seemed to me a bemused smile crossed her face.   To her credit, Judge Han did not lose her patience with me at all. 

She replied, "Mr. Archer, I have made my ruling. That will be all." 

I wasn't done yet.  I asked if I could be given something in writing.  She smiled again and said that one of her clerks would give me a letter.  I soon had my letter from the Judge.  It said the case was dismissed due to Insufficient Evidence.



I had to be at work in less than an hour. I didn't have time to go home and change.  As I drove directly to the dance studio, I was still fuming about the conversation between Ms. MDL, the woman who wrote the ticket, and Judge Han regarding the continuance. 

Why bother taking my word for it?  Hey, I bet Ticket Woman couldn't wait for the chance to go back to my house and have another look around.

They had no problem prolonging this.   After all, they played this game every day Monday through Friday. Since they were going to be here anyway, it wasn't any sweat off their back to drag me back in and let me sit another 4 hours.  Why not make me come back and jerk my chain around some more?  

Maybe this was the Trash Court version of the sick joke 'You can beat the rap, but you can't beat the ride.'

On the other hand, I am grateful Judge Han said enough is enough.  Perhaps she decided that very few people would risk standing their ground in her court as firmly as I did unless they were holding some cards of their own.  

There may have been another factor too.  I hope I am wrong, but snapping those pictures may have actually helped.  There is a part of me that believes that people in power care deeply about their reputations.  Between the camera and the laptop, I have a hunch they were all curious about what I was up to.  Why else would Judge Han ask me three times why I took the pictures? 

I believe it is possible they viewed my picture taking as a huge warning signal.  Maybe she decided it was safer just to get rid of me.

On the other hand, I could be completely wrong.  Maybe the pictures had the opposite effect.  Perhaps the camera incident irritated Ms. MDL so much she decided to ask for the continuance as a payback.  There had to be some reason she pushed so hard.  I suppose I will never know.  A lot of what went on in the courtroom that day remains a total mystery to me.

Whatever the truth, I think the little game they played on me is abhorrent. 

How much effort does it take for Ticket Lady to drive up and down the street looking for trash violations one day after the once-a-month heavy trash pickup is missed?  How many citizens think to lug their trash back in?  And once caught, how many people have the time to contest this ticket writing game?  And if these poor souls are stupid enough like me to show up for their Day in Court, how many of them are willing to gamble $2,000 to save $100

Guilty or not, most people with any sense probably just mail in the check for $233 and get it over with.

I never had the guts to bring up the fact that negligence on the part of the City of Houston caused the trash problem to begin with.  Was it just a coincidence that Trash Ticket Woman showed up the following day to go down the block writing tickets or did she have inside knowledge?  Did someone in the Trash Collection business tip her off?  

I predict one of these days the woman who wrote the ticket will be back out to write me up again.  Based on the way I was treated, I imagine they don't enjoy losing their nasty game.   Call me paranoid, but I fully expect Ticket Woman to come after the guy who had the nerve to embarrass her in court.  Or if it isn't Trash Ticket Woman, what happens if someone alerts Municipal Court 14 that some jerk like me had the nerve to question the propriety of their proceedings?  

Maybe I will get lucky and my case will be reopened like the Judge suggested.  Or maybe they will come over and look for more graffiti and dog poop.  Got to protect our citizens!

I wonder if the City of Houston employment office screens for bullies?  After all, it has been my experience that whoever has any authority over you, no matter how small, will attempt to use it. 


One thing I have never figured out is the $2,000 angle.

As I pointed out in the article, in order to have my case heard by the judge, they said I would be fined $2,000 if the judge ruled against me.  But if I would leave meekly, they would only charge me $100. 

Suddenly I wasn’t fighting a $233 fine anymore.  That fine had just multiplied by a factor of 10! 

The whole scene felt crooked.  They held all the cards.  Did I have the guts to face the judge in this kangaroo court with $2,000 on the line?

I have been to traffic court a time or two.  I don't recall being threatened with a much greater fine unless I caved in. 

Can anybody shed some light on this situation?   Say whatever you want.  I promise to keep your identity secret. 

Email to Rick Archer,

2015 - Another Case in Judge Han's Court

Sent: Thursday, March 19, 2015
Subject: Kangaroo court

Mr Archer

I have just read your interesting article about your day in court back in 2006, at 8300 Mykawa ,court 14 run by Judge Han.

What a racket, ruled by fear, intimidation and downright feeling of dominance of the "ignorant masses" ,just to rip them off of their money, legally.

And all rolled up in one person named Han.

I would like to tell you more about my experience in that court and see if we can do something to correct that situation.

If you still care and have the time to hear about my day in court, please do not hesitate to contact me

Thank you.

On Thu, Mar 19, 2015 at 8:46 AM, Rick Archer wrote:

Considering my incident took place in 2006 nine years ago, I can't imagine what can be done about it short of running a candidate to oppose the woman.  However, it is upsetting to see that the ticket racket is still in place.

Sent: Thursday, March 19, 2015
To: Rick Archer
Subject: Re: Kangaroo court

This is what happened to us. My husband is a Vietnam Combat Veteran, recently diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease due to Agent orange exposure, so we have good days and not so good days.

On February 17 -2015 while taking a step his legs bone collapsed and we took him to the VA Hospital, he was admitted. He had surgery on the 20th, released a couple of days later.

Since I do not drive I relied on Metro to get me to the VA Hospital ( 3 buses).

We have 3 dogs: one Chihuahua, one Staffordshire Terrier and one English Mastiff.

When I left to the Hospital I put the big Dogs in my backyard ( behind one wire fence, one wood gate and one more wire gate) on my property, and also a common wood gate between my house and my neighbors house.

This gate is 8.5 feet high and opens up from the streetside via deadbolt sliding closure.

When I came home in the early afternoon I had a HPD officer plus BARC awaiting me. All of the dogs were inside my house. 

(BARC is an animal control agency run by the City of Houston)

My front window was broken, with the glass mostly inside. The cop was not interested in even looking at anything, and I was told that a anonymous lady, a neighbor had called them.
The wooden gate had been opened from the outside (streetside), and all the inside fences were cut.

We were given tickets for like five offenses for each dog, from no rabies shots ( which they all had) to dogs running at large, to dogs without leash.

If you can think of something we had it.This was on 2-19-2015.

On 2-20-2015, I happened to be in the front when an other cop was at a neighbors house , talking to her.  Then he came straight across to me and proceeded to tell me that I was not supposed to have seen this.

He than told me that he could give me more tickets for anything he could think about!!!!  I said for him to get his pen and paper and get busy, he should also be aware of the fact that I was an American citizen, even so I speak with a German accent, I vote in every election, I even write to U S Senators or the President and I will express my opinion. He backed off and no tickets.

The following day here is the lady from BARC inspecting the previously broken window and taking a picture to show that it was fixed. That afternoon here comes another cop with the same litany about writing tickets. 

I said that I now understand why they can not catch any serious offender, like killers burglars and what not.  They like to concentrate on voiceless animals, when they get them in, they can sell them to other people or shelters somewhere else.

That cop was really angry, but again no ticket.

Now it comes the DAY in COURT 14 MYKAWA.

First we could not find that place, not even the residents of the area knew where it was.  We drove passed it 8 times, no sign no nothing. Why is that?  Is it on purpose so people will not find it, miss the day in court and end up with more tickets and arrest warrants?

We arrived 1 minute before 2 PM, we checked in and I explained to the clerk that I would speak for my husband.  The clerk informed me that I was not permitted to do so, since the tickets were in his name, from the car registration.  I explained that my husband was in the VA, had PD, was in a wheelchair and besides he knew nothing from what happened.

Anyways I was allowed to speak, big deal!!!!

After a considerable wait we were called to a mystery person who told us he would throw out all but 2 tickets, a total of $100.00 payable. We said that we would pay $100.00. We sat down and waited. I noticed some very worried people, some angry but mostly hopeless expressions on this poor souls faces.

Anyways after a long wait we were called to face the Judge Kathy Han, right off neither my husband nor I could understand what she was talking about, her english is atrocious.  How can she sentence people who can not understand a word she is saying?.

We told her that we had reached a agreement and we would pay the $100.00 that day and we would be done. She informed us that there would be fines that she would add and the amount would reach $1000.00 or more amount unknown at that time. 

Huh? What??

My husband said that he wanted a Trial by Jury, Han told us to sit and wait.

After a while My husband said that he was ready to go to jail and that the jail would send him to the VA jail.  I was not happy with that Idea since I had no way to get home.  So I was stressing out.

Both of us are senior citizens and protected under the Federal Law of Abuse of the Elderly.  But that card I did not want to play until the last moment. We sat and waited.

I remembered that we had another court date for next month, I approached mystery man, explained the situation, that dog had a rabies shot city tag BLAH BLAH.

Mystery man said pay $35.00 and you can go. Okay.

Here we wait again, My husband is talking about Kangaroos in court, Judge Han is angry, people are giggling behind us. I am ready to demand Habeas Corpus.

We finally face her Honor the Judge again, I told her that we had settled with mystery man, she became livid, told me that the court was too busy to put up with me changing my mind and that she could put a contempt of court on me.

I said that she could do so with cause, but as long as I had a Pen I could demand Habeas Corpus at any time, and also a Pen is mightier than a sword. Since she was ruling with a sword she was in a weak situation and after all we are all governed by the Constitution. That Lady was actually speechless and left her seat for a break.

We sat and waited some more, than we were called to a clerk who told us to pay $232.00 and we could leave.

Is this what happens to our citizens every day?  Is this a Mob racket or what, The Godfather should have been aware of this easy racket, and who gets this money?

But our problem is how can we change the situation?


On Thu, Mar 19, 2015 at 2:17 PM, Rick Archer wrote:

The sad thing is that I believe every word you said.

I will be happy to add your story below mine. However I would recommend you let me remove your name and email address.



On Thu, Mar 19, 2015 at 3:26 PM, Rick Archer <> wrote:

May I ask a couple questions to clarify? 


You wrote:  My front window was broken, with the glass mostly inside.

 Does this mean you were robbed?   If so, are you saying you were being ticketed for dogs running loose due to the robbery??  

You wrote:  The wooden gate had been opened from the outside, (streetside), and all the inside fences were cut.

Or were you vandalized by someone trying to get you in trouble?

You wrote:  On 2-20- I happen to be in the front when an other cop was at a neighbours house, talkin to her and than he came straight across to me and proceeded to tell me that I was not supposed to have seen this.

What was it you weren’t supposed to see?  What is going here… is there some sort of neighborhood conspiracy?  

I don’t understand what has happened to your house and yard.

You wrote:  That afternoon here comes another cop with the same littany about writing tickets

 Why do these cops keep coming around to harass you??

I am not quite sure why these cops were so rough on you.  Typically the police are sympathetic to a homeowner who has been attacked.

Rick Archer

Sent: Thursday, March 19, 2015 4:27 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: Re: Kangaroo court.

Answer to question one:

We were robbed a couple of years ago and the person responsible is on probation. It is my believe that this incident has nothing to do with the Burglary.

The front window was broken and we believe that that is due to a neighbor who does not like dogs.  Having a broken window is enough reason to be visited by the City. The window was not broken when I left that morning to go to the Hospital.

Answer to question two:

We were targeted by someone who saw me leave, had malice at heart, opened the common gate, and cut the wire gate, in order for the dogs to run loose. I have a large English Mastiff but even he could not reach 8.5 feet up over the gate and down 2.5 feet and slide the bolt over to get out.

Answer to question three:

You see until that moment I had been told by the previous police officer and BARC that I was not allowed to know who had called in with a complaint.

I do not even know what the complaint was or is. Only it is awfully convenient that when I am leaving all gates are in order and closed, a call goes out to HPD and BARC and they are there when my dogs are out in the front. Someone helped them.

I was not supposed to have seen him [the cop] talking to that Person in order to avoid a potential problem, I guess. I just want peace and to be left alone.

Since 2-21-2015 we had to replace the window glass two more times as late as today.

Normally I have no interaction with cops, my brother was a high ranking Police officer in Germany. I think they just wanted to write tickets. Or may be they got calls to come out I do not know.

In the last three weeks we were not visited by cops. We have been home owners for nearly 20 years and been in the same house all of this time and we only had cops here once for the Burglary.

I hope that I have clarified the matter some.


March 23, 2015

Rick Archer's Note:
 Please note that I do have any direct knowledge of the truthfulness of these emails. 

I will say, however, that in my opinion these letters have a definite ring of truth to them which is why I made the offer to reprint them. 

If I have understood the problem correctly, a vindictive individual... quite likely a neighbor... caused the damage and deliberately freed the dogs, then called the authorities.

Rather than protect the victim, the authorities preferred to exploit the victim.

The amount of hate in this world is unbelievable.


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