Phish Court

While poking around for reviews of Thursday night’s Phish show in Nashville (which kicked ass, by the way–see my forthcoming review in MPSIMS) I found this article from the Asbury Park Press.

To summarize–when Phish plays at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ next week, there will be a municipal court set up on site to arraign those accused of disorderly conduct.

First of all, maybe some of the legal-types can shed some light–is there any real legal implication to this? The story says that the offenders will simply be read their rights and told to appear in court at a later date. Is that all there is to it? It seems to me that if there is any issue of “fairness” involved, such an ad-hoc court would have trouble being impartial.

Like the Phish community, I’m really torn on the issue. On the one hand, there are a lot of assholes around the scene determined to Ruin It For Everyone Else, and I would like to see them taken care of. On the surface, this sounds like what it is–simply an attempt to make the process run more smoothly and to not clog up the regular courts.

Still, I’m troubled by quotes like this:

For one thing, I resent the generalization. How much different is that from saying, “This R&B concert is inherently disruptive. Black people are pure ganstas who shoplift, sell drugs, and shoot people”?

I’m not denying that there are drugs present at a Phish show, believe me. Pot is the most popular by far, followed at a distance by hallucinogens (acid, shrooms). The only really dangerous drug I’ve seen in the lot is nitrous, which has the advantage of coming in big noisy tanks and being sold in big colorful balloons so it’s not hard to take care of at the source. (The band itself has taken considerable steps in this direction.) I would say that there are far more people smoking pot at a Phish show than using alcohol–which makes me feel safer there than at just about any concert I’ve been to.

Still, I think this attitude is dangerous–if they’re expecting more drugs, disorderly conduct, open containers, etc. than usual, of course they’re going to find more. I’d say you would find more actual disorderly conduct at a Hank Williams, Jr. show, but you don’t have the convenience of an on-site legal assembly line there.

I’m not sure exactly what my question is–this just bothered me, somehow, and I wanted to know what people thought of it.

Dr. J

Ominously like the attitude in Kent, Ohio on May 4, 1970. If you see the National Guard, run like hell.

I’ve heard of these temporary courts at major events, but have never participated in one (as either counsel or accused, in case you’re about to ask ;)).

My understanding is that there is nothing special about where a court is held. It doesn’t have to be in a big building labelled “Court House.” The two essentials would likely be: a) a judge with territorial/subject matter jurisdiction, lawfully authorised to hold court; b) that it be open to the public. Other than that, the court can be held wherever it wishes, and the ends of justice require. For example, in my jurisdiction, Provincial Court judges go out on circuit and hold court in small towns without court houses - so the Court sits in the Legion Hall, the local community centre, and so on.

With respect to your specific question:

From your description, it sounds like a docket court: the peace officer has arrested someone, and brings them before the court for a determination of the conditions of release. Most of the offences will likely be minor, so release on a promise to appear (and possibly conditions) would be typical. On the other hand, you may get the occasional serious matter, like an armed assault, where the peace officer asks the court to order continued detention.

If it’s a regular judge of the court, with the normal statutory guarantees of indepence and impartiality, I wouldn’t call it an “ad hoc” court. It sounds like the regular court sitting at a specific venue. At the same time, I can see the concern that someone might question whether the Court is too cozy with the police. The public perception would depend in large part on the way the judge handles her/himself: if the judge looks like being in the police’s pocket, there’s a problem, but if the judge handles the cases in exactly the same way as when sitting in a court building (including not being a rubber stamp for whatever the police ask for), then there shouldn’t be a problem.

[hit the submit reply button instead of preview]

So, if the police come in with their “Phish freaks is bad folks” attitude, and the judge just nods and does whatever the police ask for in each case, you may have an argument. However, if the judge treats each case on its own merits, there shouldn’t be a problem.

I used to work in Public Affairs for the US Customs Service. It was during my stint with the government that Phish played that three day long concert in Vermont. Well, the Customs service carried out an operation during which time inspectors busted concert goers enjoying the music while smoking pot. People had the option of being billed their fine (which is not cheap - its anywhere from $250 - 500 and sometimes more, depending on if the inspector who busted you is grouchy. Or you had the option of paying at the concert. Cash, checks, and credit cards were accepted. A kiosk with a cash register was set up to take your money. So this doesn’t answer the question of it handing out citations is legal, but it the US Customs had the right to carry out extended border searches in Vermont, my guess is that it is legal.

It may be something similar to the municiple court that holds court at Veteran’s Stadium in Philadelphia on game days. They apparently had a problem with disorderly conduct and other minor crimes so they hold court at the stadium.

here’s a link to check it out: