Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Bagel and a Snapple, for $177

Rather than head to class at 10 AM like I normally would, today, I was down at the subway station at 8:30 AM with all my classmates for a field trip to the District Court! We were all dressed up up semi-nicely; I just wore a dress shirt and some slacks. There were about 20 of us meeting at Columbia, as some of the students commute from their houses and decided to meet us at the courthouse. We hopped on the 1 and took it at all the way down to Franklin Street, about 20 stops down, and from there, we walked 4 or 5 blocks east to the courthouse. Like I said yesterday, I've finally gotten to know my classmates really well, and hanging out with them is like hanging out with my friends. So I spent the entire trip down to the courthouse talking with these kids like I had known them for years, when in reality, I've known them for only a few months.
After going through security, we went up to the court room of Judge Alison Nathan, who had agreed ahead of time to meet with us, tell us about herself, and then answer our questions. She was very nice and gave very descriptive, well-thought-out to all of our questions. She was a bit hesitant in answering our questions about her politcal leaning, or her opinion of the recent Affordable Care Act decision, although it's completely 100% understandable considering the importance of neutrality and an unbiased approach to her job. She has only been a judge for six months, but gave the advice of someone who has been doing the job for years. One thing she said which I found interesting was her answer to the question about what the biggest flaw of the judicial system was; she answered that the biggest flaw was the fact that those who couldn't afford the best attorneys, or any attorneys at all, were at a major disadvantage regardless of the strength of their case.
Immediately following this session with her, our group of what was now about 30 people entered a court room on the 24th floor (AMAZING views of the Brooklyn Bridge and Empire State Building, although we weren't allowed to bring electronics past security), where the a New York city councilman, Larry Seabrook, was being tried for using city funds to, basically, pay for a ton of things that he was not supposed to use those funds for. I don't know what the charges were, or what exactly it was that Mr. Seabrook is accused of doing, but I kind of got the gist of things, which was that he had supposedly misused money that his job had trusted him to take care of.

I'm not sure where this case ranked on the spectrum of "interestingness" in comparison to all the cases being heard at the courthouse. Last year, Jeffrey told us, they had attended a murder trial in which a Korean gang member (and some of friends) had murdered a Chinese man. At first glance, it looked like one of the more interesting cases, but they discovered that the trial went extremely slowly due to the fact that every question had to be translated into a few different languages before the question could be answered. As a result, each question took a few miuntes, and the class understood less than half of what was said. This case, though, I found to be pretty interesting, although they may have had to do less with the charges and more with the specific content of today's proceedings; there was one witness who's answers were a bit amusing, and a very funny piece of evidence presented. I have no idea what the legal terms for this are, but today's proceedings consisted only of the government presenting testimonies of their witnesses. As a result, I haven't heard Mr. Seabrook's side defend him, so as far as I know, he may be as a innocent a man as there is.

Anyway, the first piece of evidence presented was a receipt from a deli on Park Place called "Bits, Bites and Baguettes." The receipt from the deli had two items: a bagel/turkey sandwich and a Diet Snapple. Under the "cost" column, it said that the sandwich cost over 155 dollars, and that the Snapple cost $21.45. Aside from the ridiculous receipt, it was very funny that the attorneys had to remain entirely serious and unbiased, without asking any leading questions. For example, the attorney questioning the owner of the store could not say, "Isn't that expensive??" he had to ask "How much does a Snapple usually sell for at your deli?" and "Does your deli usually sell bagels for 155 dollars?"

Obviously, someone had thought that these receipt weren't being checked when they tried to sneak the charge of $177 for a Snapple and a bagel. Jeffrey explained to us that those extra 150 dollars probably ended up someplace else, someplace that the person using the city funds could not use city funds for. I also found this very interesting because my dad, who is a journalist, has reported on this exact type of corruption back home in the Bay Area.

The witness, an inspector/advisor at a non-profit organization (NEBRC, or "Northeast Bronx something something") receiving city funds, was asked to read many of her reports on the organization. When asked questions of what she thought of the organization, she would answer with things like "Do you want the politically correct answer?" She also made very visible the fact that she had zero desire to be in court, as she was told about 10 times to slow down her reading so that the court reporter could catch what she was saying. After being told, she would continue reading, except she would sarcastically read three words and then pause for a second, and then three more words, and so on, as if she were reading to a little kid. Everyone also laughed when she described her conversation with the man running the organization. After he asked her to look the other way regarding about 60 falsified documents, she responded with "No, I ain't going down with you!"
After eating lunch as a class in Chinatown and arriving back to campus, we took a tour of Columbia with one of the Columbia students from our dinner, Andrea. The tour was not very long, as Columbia's campus is small and we have already seen parts of it, but she answered lots of our questions regarding social life on campus, the residence halls, core curriculum, and community outreach programs. Interestingly, the four students from the dinner all talked about how, even though it had a lot of requirements, they loved Columbia's core curriculum. One thing that we loved, also, was the fact that even in a huge urban area, Columbia's campus was  kind of a small community within that big city where you don't feel like everything is always moving 100 miles per hour.

Taking the interpretation of the word "grande" to new heights.
After the tour, I went to my room and lay down for a nap. I had planned to wake up at 6:30, in time for dinner in the dining hall, but my roommate walked in at 8:30 PM surprised to find me asleep. Instead, we went out near campus and bought some food at a taqueria on Amsterdam. There was a Chipotle that was a bit closer, but Chipotle and Rubio's, and many other chains are far more American, I feel, than they are actually Mexican, and to get real Mexican food, you need to go to the taquerias. This place did not disappoint. I ordered a grande burrito, which completely left in the dust any other interpretations of the term "grande." The burrito I recieved was more than double the size of what you would normally receive when ordering a burrito. "That burrito cannot fit into a human stomach; you can't finish that," one friend told me. "It's impossible, you have no chance," said my roommate. They don't know me that well, yet, I guess. While I did feel like the walls of my stomach were about to rupture by the time I finished, I ate the entire thing, and even cleaned the plate. I hate leaving food on my plate; even if I order double what I was planning on eating, I try to finish it all anyway (even if my stomach explodes). It was well-worth it, I thouroughly enjoyed it.
Also, let me make clear that the soda in the top right corner of the photo is not mine. I haven't had a soda this entire trip, and I don't want anyone to think I've let my guard down.

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