The Greatest Show on Dirt! 

It's wild. It's comic. It's tragic. It's completely real, and best of all, it's free! Welcome to Jerry Springer Court.

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen! Everyone's welcome, absolutely free of charges! Welcome to Jerry Springer Court here in Department 4 of the Alameda County courthouse in downtown Oakland. Judge Julie presiding. Now let me just warn you folks right about now: Things can get a little hairy in here.

What's that, ma'am? Why's it called Jerry Springer Court? Well, it's like this -- you know the trashy talk show where people get outta control and throw chairs at each other? Sometimes things get a little outta control during the Friday morning restraining-order calendar, though this here's 100 percent real, and I've never heard of anyone throwing chairs.

Oh, but just a few weeks ago this lady -- I don't know quite what was up with her -- flipped out when the judge ordered her to let her baby's daddy have their little girl for part of Thanksgiving and Christmas. So she gets this weird look on her face and starts screaming, "Kill me now, because it'll never happen." The two bailiffs -- the captain tries to assign an extra one, since things can get a little hectic in here, like I said -- almost had to spray her with Mace to get her under control. You know what that lady said to 'em? "Spray me!" she said. Wanna know what's even crazier? She got custody of the kid again after she got out of jail. That was during the domestic-violence calendar, the first act of the morning, so to speak. Pretty tragic stuff on that there calendar. The elder-abuse calendar is tragic, too.

Sorry, sir, didn't catch your question. Oh, you're not into tragedy? Then what you really want is the 10 a.m. civil-harassment calendar. Some people call this the "catfight calendar." Ya know, the new girlfriend versus the ex-girlfriend -- stuff like that. These don't get heard as domestic cases, 'cause the two parties aren't blood-related or intimates. See the difference?

We get other cases besides catfights. Lotsa, lotsa feudin' neighbors filing restraining orders one against the other. It's the Hatfields and the McCoys right here in the land of the $500,000, two-bedroom tract home. I remember this one group of neighbors tried to get a protective order against some Santeria voodoo priest to stop him from casting evil spells on them.

Then there are the real crazies. Like this one lady thought Mayor Jerry Brown could vaporize himself and was getting into her apartment through her shower drain. Course, I don't think the judge gave her a restraining order against the mayor.

Now before we get the show rolling, let me tell you a little bit about our judge, Julie Conger. She's a bit eccentric herself. She always wears these really colorful scarves to give that black robe hanging on her scarecrow shoulders a little personality. She's from Berkeley; used to be a public defender a long time ago. Yep, only in Berkeley would folks elect themselves a public defender instead of a prosecutor for a judge. Man, that musta been twenty years ago now.

The good lady is the perfect fit to oversee our little tabloid circus. She's not one to suffer fools, even in a fools' court. Kinda reminds me of that feisty judge on the TV.

Occasionally there's what you might call a guest host, another judge who fills in when she's on vacation, but Judge Conger was telling someone in court just the other day, "Anytime I take a vacation, the judge who replaces me vows never to return."

I think she actually gets a kick outta this place. The Recorder legal newspaper reported how she used to tape a sign on the back of her nameplate on the bench -- where no one else in the court could see -- that read "The Honorable Jerry Springer." She's got her a wicked sense of humor, this judge. Sometimes the do-gooders around town grumble that she makes inappropriate comments from the bench. Like the other day, this lady starts telling her story and Judge Conger interrupts to ask: "Is this when she called you a slut and a cocaine addict?"

Watch the judge when she smiles. It's like she's grinning and wincing at the same time. It's the perfect expression for this place. I mean, sometimes life is so funny it hurts, or else it hurts so much it's funny. Around here, you never quite know which one you're gonna get. And, by the way, all the names in the cases themselves have been changed to protect the ... well, we can't really say "innocent," now, can we? Ah, here comes Judge Conger. All quiet now. Take your seats, sit on back, and enjoy the show.

Act 1: Oddballs

Couch Potato Kid

Anthony Cerrano is 42 years old, although he's dressed like a 22-year-old hesher who went to an Iron Maiden concert the night before. And he's still living with his Italian-born mama, Rose, who is sick of having to support her lazy son on her pitiful Social Security check. But how do you force a deadbeat without a regular job to move out and find his own place? Why, with an elder-abuse restraining order, of course.

The proceedings start with Judge Julie asking Rose if she is Anthony's mother.

"Yes," the pint-size lady says with an audible Italian accent, "and I-a love him."

Anthony, meanwhile, stays quiet. For once. Four years earlier, Rose filed a restraining order against him for yelling at her all the time while he was freeloading. That obviously didn't work out so well, because Anthony is still freeloading.

Conger looks over to the grown man. Obviously, the judge reasons aloud, Mr. Cerrano is old enough to live on his own.

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