The lights were off because we were watching a movie; otherwise, I doubt I would have noticed the spotlight from the police van. I let the movie run for my wife and went to the porch. A police officer was walking in front of our house. He looked like he was not finding what he was looking for.
“Good evening. Can I help you?” I like police officers. They carry guns so that I do not have to.
“I am looking for 2845 N. Farwell.”
“This is it.”
He had two subpoenas for me. I signed for them and bid him a good and safe night.
There was not much to the subpoenas. The head of one read:
“City of Milwaukee, Plaintiff –vs – JESSE J. TODD W4000 Linden Dr Malone, WI 53049, Defendant.”
Opposite this information was the Case Number: 13052759, Citation: 48910111189, Offense Date: 05/07/2013, and Violation: Excessive Noise Prohibited.”
The head of the second read:
“City of Milwaukee, Plaintiff –vs – CHRISTOPHER MICHAEL GILSON, 2694 Lavender Ln, Green Bay, WI 54313, Defendant.”
This subpoena had the Case Number: 13052708 and Citation Number: 48910111190, but the offense date and violation were the same.
I do not practice law, but I suspect the subpoena proper is what followed. What followed were my name, address, and this:
“Pursuant to Section 885.01 of the Wisconsin Statutes, you are hereby commanded to appear in person before the judge of the Milwaukee Court, 951 N James Lovell St, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in Branch 3 on Monday, November 18, 2013 at 1:30 pm to give evidence in an action between the City of Milwaukee, Plaintiff, and [ Jesse J. Todd or Christopher Michael Gilson, depending on the subpoena], Defendant. Failure to appear may result in punishment for contempt, which may include monetary penalties, imprisonment, and other sanctions.”
The subpoenas were dated September 19, 2013, and signed (illegibly) by Philip Chavez, Municipal Judge, City of Milwaukee.
This fairly represents the subpoenas in wording, punctuation, and typeface without giving actual facsimiles.
I am not often served subpoenas. When I am, I do not let it get in the way of a fine movie. The subpoenas were put aside. My wife and I finished watching Wim Wender’s Paris, Texas. We did not find it as interesting as Wings of Desire or the equally surprising Faraway, So Close! Nevertheless, it was delightfully challenging. All of these movies and more are available from the Milwaukee Public Library. We love living in Milwaukee.
After the movie, I turned my attention to the command of Honorable Judge Philip Chavez.
What was this all about?
The first thing I noticed was how little there was to notice. Who is Christopher Michael Gilson? I have not been to Green Bay in over a decade. As for Malone, Wisconsin, I have never heard of it. The name Jesse was familiar, unfortunately.
It seemed odd that while Mr. Todd and Mr. Gilson were the defendants, I was the one threatened with “monetary penalties, imprisonment, and other sanctions.” I am sure Judge Chavez meant no harm by these words. There probably is a legal reason for this threat. It is no doubt nothing more than legal boilerplate – words to suit all occasions of the court summoning a citizen to testify. I doubt Judge Chavez considered the citizen he was addressing with these words. He probably did not even read the words at all. Still, since Mr. Gilson and Mr. Todd were the defendants it seemed odd.
The violation of “excessive noise prohibited” was not much of a clue. Excessive noise is the plague of the East Side. Nevertheless, with Mr. Jesse Todd, the violation, and the violation date as clues I looked into my records.
Yes, there it was.
May 7, 2013, was a pleasant day. The windows were strategically opened for a nice breeze. No need for an air conditioner by day or the furnace at night. The sun shone, the birds sang, the Bose in the dining room played Bach as I read contentedly in my study. Then the occupants of 2851 N. Farwell broadcasted obscene, misogynic rap into the neighborhood.
It is “rap” not “rap music.” Rap is not music. Rap is excrement. Rap is not experimental. It is not daring. There is nothing commendable about rap. Of course, this is my opinion and I do not expect everyone to accept the justice and wisdom of this opinion. When it comes to “obscene” and “misogynic,” however, few would defend the vulgarities “rapped” in the hearing of families with children, and the abuse of women is intolerable in fact or in “rap.”
And so I remembered. And so I recorded of what I reported on May 7, 2013.
Report It, Record It
From the Murray Hill Neighborhood Association: “The City of Milwaukee Code of Ordinances, Chapter 80-63, prohibits excessive noise, or that which is disturbing at 50 feet outside the property line. The Milwaukee East Side Neighborhood Associations have an excellent working relationship with the 1st District of the Milwaukee Police Department and have adopted a program to enhance police response and outcomes in our community. This program is called Report It, Record It.”
And then there is this: “Record It: Take detailed notes about the situation (date, time, addresses, etc.). Your notes may be needed in the event that you are asked to testify in court or to provide valuable information to the City and MPD when they seek to follow up with landlords.”
So Report It, Record It, and tell the police that you will be a witness. They will issue the ticket even if they have observed nothing. The police cannot be everywhere all the time. The disturbance reported may have ended hours before an officer can respond. There are other matters more important than “Excessive Noise Prohibited” to which the police must attend. Every mature citizen not only understands that “Excessive Noise Prohibited” is not a high priority for the police, but he also does not want it to be a high priority. Still, there must be a way to address even the broken window so that minor acts of incivility do not fester and grow into gross criminality.
Report It, Record It is supposed be the answer. There is no reason to worry. On a citizen’s willingness to be a witness, the police will issue a ticket for $ 230.00 per occupant for “Excessive Noise Prohibited.” One must record it on the off chance the reprobates will plead not guilty.
Well, Mr. Todd and Mr. Gilson pleaded not guilty. This resulted in Judge Chavez issuing subpoenas commanding my presence on Monday, 18 November, at 1:30, complete with threats if I failed to appear. The threats were unnecessary and even comical since I have a good understanding of my civic responsibility.
I understand, but the Murray Hill Neighborhood Association does not understand. They do not understand that some neighbors do not want to risk being compelled to attend court hearings. They do not understand that some neighbors do not have the time for court appearances. They do not understand that many neighbors do not want to expose themselves to the anger of immature and unruly students. They do not understand that most people do not keep a record of what happened on May 7, 2013, for presentation six months later on November 18, 2013.
I did keep a record of what I reported. It made no difference.
It is best not to be simply “on time” for any important event. One must be there before time. For the 1:30 p.m. court session, I registered sometime around 1:00 p.m. I checked in and was given instructions. When Mr. Todd and Mr. Gilson were called, I was to enter branch three. I asked the clerk where branch three is.
“Right around the corner,” she said pointing.
“Oh. Where that large sign says ‘Branch Three,’” I responded self-mockingly.
She smiled and laughed maybe just a bit. I enjoyed the moment. This was not a place where she, or many others, smiled or laughed very much. This brief exchange was the only enjoyable moment of my visit to the Milwaukee Municipal Court.
My name was not going to be called. I was a witness for the city of Milwaukee. Not a plaintiff, not a defendant. Mr. Todd and Mr. Gilson were going to be called. However, they were not called immediately. Defendants for branch one were called. Then branch two. I had been sitting in the waiting area for at least a half hour and had not seen Mr. Gilson or Mr. Todd arrive. I looked around. Perhaps they had arrived before me. They were not there.
Finally, defendants for branch three were called “including witnesses.”
The courtroom was wood-paneled with pews. About ten police officers sat on the left of the nave. I took a place behind eight of them, two sat to my right. Most of the defendants would be sitting in the pews to the left and behind me. The prosecutor was front left at a computer. The judge had not entered. It was quiet as the defendants gathered. I began to think that Mr. Gilson and Mr. Todd would not make an appearance. The thought entered my mind that they might accrue court costs in addition to their fines. It would be somewhat annoying to have made the trip for nothing. Then again, it would not be a total waste. They would be fined, receiving due punishment for disturbing the peace, and I would be home early.
I glanced to the back. Mr. Todd was taking a place to the left and rear of me. He saw me and I him. I would not be home early. The game began.
Enters the Judge
Mr. Gilson and Mr. Todd were late, but present before Judge Chavez entered to begin the business of the afternoon. Branch three of the Municipal Court of Milwaukee had many cases to dispatch. Every single one of them was more important than a case of “Excessive Noise Prohibited.” The presence of ten police officers prepared to give testimony indicated as much.
When Judge Philip Chavez entered, the command was given, “all rise,” etcetera as we have all seen in the movies, ending with, “Your silence is commanded.”
From that point on, forget the movies. There was no impaneled jury. The cases did not warrant it. There were defense attorneys. They came and went quickly. The prosecutor interviewed defendants and a few other witnesses at his perch to the left of the judge’s bench. Or he took them out to the hall. Most of the court’s business took place at the prosecutor’s computer or in the hallway in hushed tones that few heard and fewer understood. Only English was spoken, but the abbreviations were quickly spoken and learned by the common citizen in attendance only by repetition. Disorderly conduct is DC for those familiar with the court. The common citizen hears, “DC” and wonders what the District of Columbia has to do with cases tried in Milwaukee. He learns his mistake only by carefully listening. The rubrics of this temple of justice are secret and the liturgy strange.
The Honorable Judge Philip Chavez runs an efficient court. Fines were paid, sentences rendered, cases rescheduled with aplomb. The judge is a kind man. A young African American woman, without a lawyer, made her case the best way she could, pleading that sending her to jail again made no sense. The reply of the judge was strictly logical according to the law and baffling to any citizen witnessing the exchange; in the end, the woman was not given jail time. A young white man charged with DWI did not fare as well, but was dealt with fairly and raised no objections.
The Municipal Court is not a pleasant place. It is a place where many citizens find themselves in the maw of the law because they have fallen on hard times. Most people wisely try to avoid being in court for any reason. This day three elected to be there. One had a lawyer and thought he had a case. He was mistaken, but it was his right. The other two who elected to be at court were Mr. Gilson and Mr. Todd. They too had the right to contest their fine. They were not mistaken, however. They had no lawyer, the law was not on their side, but this court would bless them.
Copping the Plea
I am not a lawyer, but this was not the first time I had been in a courtroom. I am familiar with its strangeness. I know its peculiar rules serve a kind of fairness and objectivity even if at times justice suffers. I do not know its rubrics. I have not mastered its liturgy.
I knew the court would not be interested in the fact that Mr. Todd and his companions woke me early one winter morning because he was so drunk he did not know the difference between his clapboard blue-painted abode and my brown brick home. I knew the court would not be interested in an altercation on 30 April, when the tenants of 2851 were told that broadcasting music from an SUV was not acceptable and replied in vulgar terms that I was the rude one. They turned off the “music” only when I returned to take down the license number of the SUV.
I knew that the court would not be interested in the fact that Mr. Todd, on May 7, having received his citation, came to my door to tell me that I should be more tolerant since I was living “on university property.” The court would not be interested that he then became so angry, abusive, and incoherent I order him off the porch, fearing he would get violent. The court would not be interested in the fact that Mr. Todd once shouted that I was “so damn Jewish.” The court would regard it as irrelevant hearsay that the occupants of 2851 refer to me as “the Rabbi.” The court would not be amused by the idea that I was accused of being intolerant by a nest of anti-Semite UWM students.
For the record, I am not Jewish nor do I live on university property.
In addition, I could offer no proof to the court that the vandalism that occurred after Mr. Gilson and Mr. Todd were cited came from them. Without proof, it did not matter that I could think of no one else who would delight in committing vandalism except the occupants of 2851 N. Farwell.
All of these are “quality of life” issues that the Murray Hill Association assures us that Report It, Record It is supposed to address. The court was not going to be interested. I knew this.
The court was concerned with this narrow point of law.
Ordinance 80-63: It shall be unlawful for any person occupying or having charge or control of any building or premises, or any part thereof, to cause, suffer or allow any loud, excessive or unusual noise in the operation of any radio, stereo or other mechanical or electrical device, instrument or machine, which loud, excessive or unusual noise tends to unreasonably disturb the comfort, quiet or repose of persons therein or in the vicinity.
The “vicinity” is defined elsewhere as “50 feet outside the property line.” Outside of that vicinity a neighbor must not “unreasonably disturb the comfort, quiet or repose of” their neighbors.
The prosecutor conducted one short interview with me at his place to the left of the bench. He stated his name in hushed tones. I do not know it. He was not interested in the vulgarity and the misogyny of the rap broadcast. He did not care that it was rap. All this is fair and legal. He only cared that it could be heard “50 feet outside the property line.” I assured him that it was so and that would be my testimony. There was no defense for Mr. Gilson or Mr. Todd. They had done the deed.
All the other things these students had done, all the other incidents where they negatively affected the “quality of life” in our East Side neighborhood before, during, and after 7 May 2013 would not be brought before the court. On this narrow point of law, however, they were guilty.
The afternoon dragged on. Cases were brought, testimony given, judgments made. I had one interview with the prosecutor. Time was running out. The prosecutor called Mr. Gilson and Mr. Todd out into the hallway several times. A middle-age couple that I took to be Mr. Todd’s parents was also present. Mr. Todd and Mr. Gilson were pressing for a hearing to defend themselves. Time was running out because Mr. Gilson and Mr. Todd registered late for their court appearance. The prospect of a rescheduled hearing presented itself. Mr. Gilson alerted the prosecutor that he might not be available for a later hearing. All of this was discussed behind my back, and then between the prosecutor and Judge Chavez. The prosecutor interviewed me once and ignored me otherwise.
The prosecutor had a solution. The defendants would change their pleas from “not guilty” to “no contest.” The fine of $230 would be set aside for one year. If after one year neither defendant received another ticket (aside from a parking ticket) all would be forgiven. If they were ticketed again, then they would have to return to Judge Chavez’s court. There was no indication what would happen if they were forced to return by another infraction. Perhaps a serious tongue lashing.
Bottom line: Mr. Todd and Mr. Gilson committed the crime and did not pay the fine.
I asked to address the court. I should not have asked to address the court. Hours of sitting and waiting and seeing it all go down wrong made me angry. When I am angry, like most of humanity, I lose all claim to eloquence. I told Judge Chavez that he let these two off. He denied it. I recovered some degree of calm and said something to the effect that this was wrong for the East Side. Whatever I said to Judge Chavez was pathetic and stupid and I regret opening my mouth. I was angry.
I made my way to the door. The prosecutor stopped me and waved me to the side door. In the hallway, he took pity on me and attempted to correct my impression of events by restating the terms of the plea that I had already heard and understood. He added this one bit. If either defendant was ticketed again within the next year, they would be compelled to appear before Judge Chavez but I would not be so compelled. So if there was another infraction, I would not know about it. If the defendants did appear in court again, I would not know the outcome of the hearing.
It made no sense. The defendants broke the law and walked with no fine imposed. The prosecutor was more solicitous of the defendants than of the resident who came forward to testify on behalf of the City. He did not care in the least about the “quality of life” issues of the East Side.
What the Court Teaches UWM Students
I have lived on the East Side for over fifteen years. For fifteen years, I have heard that UWM owns this neighborhood and the students of UWM are entitled to violate city ordinaries with impunity. There are many tales I could tell, but I will focus on the lessons learned in the court of Judge Philip Chavez.
First: It does not matter what the law says; if you contest it, you have a good chance of walking away without a fine. Just show up for the hearing. You do not even need a lawyer. You just need the time. Since you are a student, you have plenty of time. Residents do not have the flexibility with their schedules that you have. (Every resident knows that students have plenty of time. Weekend parties begin on Wednesday night on the East Side.)
Second: Show up late. The court is busy. There are really serious cases to address. The concerns of those uppity East Side residents pale by comparison. The prosecutor in the Gilson and Todd cases worked the plea agreement because they were late in the queue because of their late arrival. To reschedule the hearing is too much bother.
Third: This is not where you live. Any delay works in your favor. The court understands that to reschedule will not work for you. By the time the court has a convenient date, you will be in Green Bay or Malone. You probably will not receive another ticket in Milwaukee, and thus trigger a return to Judge Chavez’s courtroom. You do not live here.
The Failure of East Side Neighborhood Associations
There are parts of the East Side that are at a tipping point now. In the 2800 block of Farwell there is one house in foreclosure, a second that has been empty for more than a year, a third that is now listed for sale. Three additional properties on this block could be for sale in 2014. This block was once predominantly owner occupied. This once stable block is now susceptible to being dominated by irresponsible absentee landlords who will greedily rent space to transient students.
We have been told that Report It, Record It is the answer to preserving the quality of life on the East Side. This simply is not true.
First, the program asks too much of citizens. In many instances, the business of recording it requires citizens to get up out of bed, dress, walk to the place causing the disturbance, record the address without being seen and call it in. It does not take much imagination to understand the hazard a citizen exposes himself to in attempting to make an accurate record.
Second, who keeps a record of anything for six or more months? I witnessed a police officer having difficulty giving accurate testimony in court. He was a trained professional and admirable in his decorum. The widow living across the street would not be so accurate, nor would anyone expect her to be.
Third, students are transients. Students invest nothing in the East Side community. We count ourselves fortunate if they rouse themselves from their late night carousing to shovel the snow any time during the day. Right now 2851 N. Farwell has an upholstered sofa rotting in the back yard, a nice nest for nocturnal vermin. The front yard is decorated with the de rigueur discarded beer cans. Transients take no pride in their temporary abode.
Fourth, I reported it. I recorded it. And Mr. Gilson and Mr. Todd walked without paying the fine. They will no doubt share their experience with friends. In addition, according to one reliable source, where the judge does not completely set aside the small $230 fine, he will often reduce it.
Finally, the cases of Mr. Gilson and Mr. Todd are my second and third before the court. The first was years ago, and the court was presided over by Judge Valarie Hill (no relation). In that case, the police officer who issued the ticket did not comply with the subpoena issued to him. The case melted away. The scoundrels, who also occupied 2851 N. Farwell, danced off without paying a fine.
It Comes to This
Report It, Record It is only a partial answer to the lawlessness that UWM students bring to the East Side. The University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee needs to be a full partner in preserving the quality of life for both residents and students on the East Side. That means capping enrollment. That means suspending and expelling students who will not behave as responsible citizens.
The proud posturing of Murray Hill Neighborhood Association aside, it is the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee that needs to reform and become a good neighbor.