Court Reporting! Zzzzzz…

Yes, it’s been a long time since the last post and yes, the handful of you out there who semi-followed this blog a few months back have probably long forgotten about it. But my second semester of university is well underway and I’ve finally started getting a few marks back for some stories I’ve written, which means I finally have some more stuff to post.

I was writing something on the Palestinian bid for statehood the other day but it seems every man and his dog has published something about that. I figure just because I have an opinion and a few friends either side of the Green Line doesn’t mean I’m an authority on the subject. This reasoning may change. Stay tuned.

Anyway. This semester I have a subject called Journalistic Inquiry. The lecturer works for the Courier Mail and his lectures are thinly veiled stories of his own career which I think are supposed to impress us. He regales us with these strangely specific “examples” and as an afterthought remembers to ask “what would you do in this situation?” at the end. Before we can answer he’s telling us “what you should do” – basically recounting his own actions. When he’s not reliving the glory days he’ll get hot and bothered about how we’re all valiant knights struggling every day to uphold the Fourth Estate, employing the phrase “defenders of the truth” more times than I care to count. I don’t get all misty eyed when he launches into one of these tirades (I suspect none of us do) and to be honest, such self congratulation has probably contributed to the pervasive public contempt for the news media.

The good part about this subject is how practical it is, and our first story had to be gathered from what we saw in court. On my first day in the Brisbane’s Supreme Court we got to see an interview with a witness via video link up to China and translator. But it was day 30 of a 60 day fraud case or some such thing. It only took an hour before we bailed to the Roma Street arrest court, which was full of heroin addicts, poor students, drunks and unfortunate migrants who’d stolen a pair of pants from Target, slashed a policeman’s tires or picked up an Iphone in a bar and thought “finders keepers” was enshrined as law in the Australian constitution.

My second day at the supreme court was more productive. After being thoroughly rattled by the revelation that the guy sitting in front of us had in fact raped and murdered several women in the 90’s and wanted his case reheard, we watched a couple sentenced for growing marijuana near their Logan home.

Here’s the story I wrote on the affair:

“The Brisbane Supreme Court heard yesterday that a Logan couple who grew marijuana smoked the drug to deal with depression, marital break-up and the stress of caring for disabled children.

Jan Marie Liskus, 54, was sentenced to 12 month suspended sentence after pleading guilty to growing marijuana, possessing a quantity in excess of 500 grams.

Mrs Liskus also pleaded guilty to supplying the drug to her adult children.

Her husband John Anthony Liskus, 51, received a $2500 fine despite prior convictions of marijuana possession in the early 1990’s, due to the “lesser criminality” of his actions, Justice Debra Mullins said.

The court heard that Mrs Liskus had been the primary grower and user, whilst Mr Liskus had been aware and occasionally helped in his wife’s activities.

The prosecution told Justice Mullins that police had found 910 grams of cannabis plants and 416 grams of marijuana on the 4th of September 2010.

Police also recovered chemicals, lights, fans and other equipment for a hydroponic growing operation.

However, the court heard that the marijuana was grown primarily for the personal use of Mr and Mrs Liskus and their adult children.

The defence counsel outlined how Mrs Liskus volunteers with the Uniting Church to provide services to disabled children.

In particular, Mr and Mrs Liskus looked after a disabled child in their home for three years, and Mrs Liskus suffers from depression in the aftermath of that experience.

Furthermore, Mr and Mrs Liskus’ marriage collapsed in the past year, although the couple still live in the same home.

The defence counsel quoted Mr Liskus as saying “It helps because it calms her down.”

“When she smokes we don’t fight.

“It’s helped my marriage.”

Justice Mullins acknowledged the contributing factors to Mr and Mrs Liskus’ usage but stressed that “cannabis is an illicit substance for a reason”.

“It is disappointing to see mature adults like you in front of the court,” Justice Mullins said.

The prosecution said the “unusually large” quantity of marijuana found was an “aggravating feature”.

However, Justice Mullins rejected this claim.”

*        *        *        *

My tutor, a wonderfully grizzled old Irish expat gave me a 7/10 and said it was “A workmanlike piece, let down by missing details and sloppiness.” Apparently ‘workmanlike’ alternately means ‘well executed’ and ‘dull’. Damn.

In all, my first experience with court reporting convinced me that I never want to have to do court reporting again. For all the successful TV series based on the legal system, in real life it’s pretty darn boring. Court is open so justice can “be seen to be done”, but really they could be doing anything in there and no-one would know the difference.  It’s also kind of sad. You get the feeling that the only person in the whole room who doesn’t know what’s going on is the accused. They seem like a mere prop in the whole production, standing there while indifferent judges and lawyers argue over seemingly insignificant matters of evidence and sentencing – effectively the person’s future. Another reason to go freelance I suppose.

Anyhoo, hopefully I’ll be blogging a lot more in the next few weeks. Comments? Criticism? Discussion? That’s what the text box below is for!

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