Of course, the whole sorry tale ends up in court, bringing the series of fictional character sketches from Jim Gabour’s latest novel, Unimportant People, to a triumphant close.
Jim Gabour
6 August 2011







*****************DOCKET CASE AO-51674B*****************










Judge Robert A. Cannalo:  Miss LaGrande, I presume that you plead Guilty in the face of the overwhelming evidence against you and the testimony of the arresting officer, and so I...

L. Mutt Jeansonne [subsequently identified]:  [coming forward from public gallery]  Mr. Judge Your Honor sir, I am sorry to interrupt these legal Government proceedings here, but I believe you, sir, are about to be making a serious bad mistake.

Unidentified male accompanying Jeansonne:  [unintelligible]... rheumatism rhinoceros...[unintelligible] got it got it innocent sir.

Judge Cannalo:  Order!  I’ll have order in here.  Quiet!  Now, just who the hell are you, fellow, and why have you interrupted this Court?

Jeansonne:  I just spent the last month locked up in this very same building on jury duty, Your Honor sir.  Sitting down there in the basement waiting, I saw a lot of folks come in and out of here guilty as sin of doing some things I can’t even mention in public.  But this lady here she’s done nothing to hurt anyone.   She’s a good citizen and you ought to be letting her go.

Public Defender Steven R. Wagner:  Your Honor, I have not had the opportunity of interviewing this gentleman.  It could be that he...

Judge Cannalo:  Quiet, Wagner.  [to Jeansonne] Your name?

Jeansonne:  F. Mutt Jeansonne, Judge.  Got me my Registered Voter ID right here to prove it.   [Jeansonne offered card for inspection by Judge Cannalo]

Judge Cannalo:  Well, very good, Mr. Jeansonne.  You are indeed a voter in Orleans Parish.

Jeansonne:  Just call me Mutt, Your honor.

Judge Cannalo:  Mr. Jeansonne. Do you think you have anything relevant to offer the Court in this case?

ADA Christine V. Reed:  Objection, your honor, this man is not a recognized officer of the Court, nor has he been requested by the defendant to represent her interests in this case.      

Public Defender Wagner:  Judge, as the legally-appointed representative of the Office of the New Orleans Public Defender, I believe I have precedence here.  I have my rights. As you yourself well know, in my three years of office I have faithfully served over two thousand clients.  All with distinction, many successfully.  I have accomplished this feat while maintaining both the traditions and the dignity of the State of Louisiana’s system of legal jurisprudence.  I do not see why this August Court should listen...

Defendant Melodie LaGrande:  I want Mutt.  He’s my man.

Unidentified male:  Piragua!  [spelling uncertain]

Judge Cannalo:  I said quiet, son.  Quiet, or I will have you removed.  Miss Reed, it seems the defendant thinks this man has something to add to her case.   Seems sensible to make sure the defendant receives the defense of her choice, doesn’t it?

ADA Reed:  Judge, I would have to agree with you.  In my opinion, this gentleman can certainly -- and adequately -- substitute for Mr. Wagner.

Public Defender Wagner:  This is uncon...

Judge Cannalo:  So ruled.  [Public Defender Wagner left the Courtroom at this point]  Mr. Jeansonne, I warn you that if this is frivolous, I will take great pleasure in placing you also in the custody of the deputies.  Contempt charges are a lot more serious than health code violations.  Now what is it you want to say?  And make it brief.

Jeansonne:  Judge, I just want to know what it is that she is being charged with.

Judge Cannalo:   Mr. Jeansonne, we have already read the charges.  If you had been paying attention to the proceedings, you would know that.  We still have a long docket ahead of us.  I am allowing you this extra attention only in the interest of properly serving justice to your client.  You will listen this time.  Miss Mouton, I believe you have the statute.  Read it to the gentleman, please.

ADA Reed:  Judge, I don’t know what purpose this will serve. 

Judge Cannalo:  You have a problem with giving this lovely woman a fair trial, Counselor?  Not your sort, is she?  You will humor me.

ADA Reed:  I have no problem with Ms. LaGrande at all, sir.  Except the legal problem she has presented to this Court.

Judge Cannalo:  I will determine that, won’t I?  Miss Mouton, the statute, please.

Clerk of Court Geraldine R. Mouton:  [Clerk of Court presented City Statutes, Volume 3, to Court]  Yes, Your Honor.  The applicable law is stated in the New Orleans City Health Code Statute 978, Article G, and specifically Subsection 3.  The statute reads, and I quote,  “Female service and/or entertainment personnel employed in public places of business that are subject to the articles of Statute 302, namely the City Liquor License, required for serving beverages of high alcoholic content, shall be subject to health rules specifying the wearing of approved hair nets and shoes in food preparation areas, and the sanitary covering of both the pubic region and breast nipples, to include the aureoles, in applicable entertainment areas.”

[Clerk of Court replaced City Statutes, Volume 3]

Judge Cannalo:  There you have it, Mr Jeansonne.  Miss Reed.  The law.

ADA Reed:  Exactly, Your Honor.  Miss LaGrande did, in fact, remove her pasties.  She exposed her nipples, including the aureoles, in the presence of officers of the law.  She is therefore both guilty of violating the law, and subject to its penalties.  Judge Cannalo, we both know that this statute is a bit of self-righteous demagoguery that was snuck in the political back door with a Republican-dominated City Council back in the Eisenhower era.  They put restrictions on the Bourbon street strip bars to try to convince the general population that government was setting a good example -- keeping public mores from deteriorating by keeping female body parts under cover.  It is indicative of the misguided social legislation of the nineteen-fifties.  That said, I am sorry, Miss LaGrande, but the law remains both on the books and quite applicable in your specific case.  Judge, the District Attorney’s office asks that you rule Miss LaGrande guilty as charged.

[disruption in the courtroom]

Judge Cannalo:  Quiet.  Quiet!  Stop that booing back there.  And no more of those ridiculous noises!  I will have order in this courtroom.  If you people can’t keep silence while this court is in session, I’ll have you all tossed out into Tulane Avenue where you can talk as loudly as you want.  Purbush, I want you to keep these people orderly.  Pay attention.  And Mr. Jeansonne, I would appreciate it if you and your companion would also refrain from muttering so loudly while I am doing you the courtesy of acceding to your own request.

Jeansonne:  Sorry, Your Honor. Me and my buddy here just realized something we think you’ll be interested in.  We realized that not only is this lady not guilty, but she ain’t even supposed to be here in the first place.  If you’ll let me come up there to your bench again, I can show you what I mean.

Judge Cannalo:  Proceed.  But in an orderly fashion.  And let me warn you again:  you had better be right about this.

Jeansonne:  Yes, sir.   Yes, Your Honor, sir.  [to ADA Reed]  Maam, would you identify the person who supposed to have committed a crime here?

ADA Reed:  Of course.  Counselor.  [pointing to the defendant]  Melodie LaGrande, present here in this court.

Jeansonne:  That’s what I thought.  Judge, there ain’t no Melodie LaGrande here.

Judge Cannalo:  Bailiff Purbush, identify the defendant.

Bailiff Lawrence R. Purbush:  Melodie LaGrande, 23, address unknown, place of employment French Can-Can-Do Lounge, shoe size 6B, Your Honor.

Judge Cannalo:  And how did you get this information?

Bailiff Purbush:  I got it from the defendant herself, Your Honor.  In the holding area.  She was pretty drunk, flashing them big boobs and that butt all around and...

Judge Cannalo:  Purbush, any more talk like that from you and you will walk yourself down to the holding cell, and spend a little time as a guest of this Court.  Without pay.

Bailiff Purbush:  Yes sir.  Yes sir.  I’m sorry, your Honor.  It’s just she made such a scene back there.  The lady she did tell me her name.  We haven’t been able to prove that she is who she says she is yet, because she didn’t have a proper ID on her when she was brought in.  Judge Your Honor sir, she didn’t have nothing on her when she was brought in.

[courtroom disruption noted]

Judge Cannalo:  Order!  Quiet, you people!

Bailiff Purbush:  But we got her prints, and we sent them off to the Feds for ID confirmation.  Regular procedure in a case with no solid proof of identification.  Should have something in the morning.  But I wouldn’t think it matters who she is as long as we know what she did.

[courtroom disruption noted]

Judge Cannalo:  Order, dammit!  [to Clerk of Court]  I apologize, Miss Mouton.  [to Courtroom]  I won’t tell you people again.  Bailiff, you will keep your astute legal opinions to yourself in my Court.  And Mr. Jeansonne, if the gentleman with you becomes unruly just once more, I will find you both in contempt.

Jeansonne:  Yes, sir.  Of course, Your Honor, sir.  My associate here was kind of overexcited about some fine points of the law.  And though I just sat here thirty days getting my education in the way things work in a courtroom, I still don’t know how to do stuff.  What I’d like to do is I’d like to enter something into evidence if it’s OK with you and the lady.

[at this point Mr. Jeansonne placed a large bag on the defense table; he pulled a wallet from this bag, and then removed a Louisiana Driver’s License from that wallet which he subsequently placed on Judge Cannalo’s desk] 

Judge Cannalo:  Well, Mr. Jeansonne?

Jeansonne:  Judge, just look at that picture on the license.  Pretty, ain’t she?  Do you recognize the person in that picture, sir?

Judge Cannalo:  Yes, it is the defendant here in Court. 

Jeansonne:  Judge, sir, if it’s OK with you, I’d like this lady here [indicating ADA Reed] to get a look at that license.

Judge Cannalo:  Alright, son, but I am telling you, you better have a damn good reason for what you’re doing.  We have wasted enough time here already.  [to ADA Reed]  Miss Reed, come over here, please.

[Jeansonne handed license directly to ADA Reed.  There was a short further disruption as the ADA dropped the proffered evidence.]

Jeansonne:  [to ADA Reed]  Yes.  Yes.  Maam, I know all about the importance of having an ID of some sort.  I been having mine a few years and I know it helps the Government keep track of us, among other things.  This is a legal document, ain’t it?

ADA Reed:  Um.  Yes.  If issued by the State.

Jeansonne:  And this one you got in your hand is, ain’t it?  Legal?

ADA Reed:  Yes, it seems at first glance to be authentic.  And if it is authentic, it is therefore a legal document in the eyes of the court.

Jeansonne:  Would you mind looking carefully and reading me the person’s name off that license? 

ADA Reed:  George Hotard. 

[a longer period of general disruption noted in the courtroom]

Judge Cannalo:  Order, dammit!  I said order in the court!  What the hell are you saying, Mr. Jeansonne?

Jeansonne:  I’m getting there, Judge, sir.   Ma’am, would you mind  reading to me what the State of Louisiana certifying as to being this here person’s sex?

ADA Reed:  Male.

Judge Cannalo:  Holy [expletive deleted from the record by Clerk of Court at Presiding Judge’s subsequent request]

Jeansonne:  That does it, Judge, sir. This lady just read me the law, and you yourself identified the person on this legal document.  That law she read don’t say a thing about a male needing to have his nipples covered in a public place, does it?

Unidentified male:  Oblong!

Bailiff Purbush:  Judge, there is a goddamn duck back here.

[another period of severe and prolonged general disruption followed this last statement, during which four people were ejected from the court, including the reporter from the Times-Picayune]

Judge Cannalo:  I will have quiet!  [to defendant LaGrande]  Ma’am.  Sir. Is this really you?

Defendant LaGrande:  That’s what I was trying to tell them when they first brought me in here.  They just wouldn’t let a girl have her say.

Judge Cannalo:  I am sure they were a bit overwhelmed by the [Presiding Judge pointed to Defendant LaGrande] physical evidence in your particular case to think there was any other possibility. [to arresting officers]  I think we tend to forget where we live once in a while, gentlemen.  This is New Orleans, you know, and the French Quarter... well, the French Quarter is what it is.  We must regard the law as flexible. 

ADA Reed:  Objection, Your Honor.

Judge Cannalo:  Quiet, Miss Reed, I think I have this one under control.  The law is clear and Mr. Jeansonne is correct.  You are free to go, Mister Hotard.  And on that questionable note, ladies and gents, let’s pack it up and call it a night.

ADA Reed:  But, Your Honor...

Judge Cannalo:  The magic word tonight was Get a Life, Reed.  Court adjourned.






                                                             CHARGES DISMISSED.

                                                             DEFENDANT RELEASED.

                                                             CASE FILE CLOSED.



From the September 1 Times-Picayune

Homeless man defends topless ‘woman NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Shortly before sunrise today, City Night Court Judge Robert A. Cannalo dismissed charges of misdemeanor health code violations against Melodie LaGrande, 23, of this city.  Cannalo ruled for dismissal despite the protests of both arresting officers and a representative of the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office.  In an unusual and lengthy session at the Tulane Avenue Criminal Court Building, Judge Cannalo cited a technical misapplication of the law as the reason for his ruling.  Officer T.E. Fortenberry of the New Orleans Police Department was issued an informal reprimand from the Court for failing to determine that Ms. LaGrande is in fact legally male, and not prosecutable under the so-called “nipple coverage” ordinance.

Making the decision more significant was the fact that Ms. LaGrande, an exotic entertainer at the French Can-Can-Do Lounge on Bourbon street, was represented in the legal proceedings by L. Mutt Jeansonne.  Jeansonne, allegedly a homeless person, refused to give a local address, though he described himself as a “registered voter” of this city.

After the adjournment Assistant District Attorney Christine V. Reed commented on the acquittal, saying she believed the incident was “the first time an untrained indigent person has willingly and successfully participated as a principal in this City Court’s trial process.  I am happy to have been a part of this precedent-setting session, even though I was on the losing side, thanks to Mr. Jeansonne’s legal insight,” Reed said.

The trial was often interrupted by an unruly late-night courtroom crowd, some of whom made loud “barnyard” noises to indicate their approval or disapproval of the proceedings.  There were, in fact, a number of animals in the Court.  A duck and its owner were among those expelled as the Court’s docket was called to a close.

Ms. LaGrande attended the trial clad in a green prison-hospital gown.  Bailiffs provided the defendant with the clothing after she was booked at Central Lockup wearing only high heels and with a small grey dog attached to her left wrist.

On questioning by the Associated Press, LaGrande claimed the dog to be her wardrobe stylist.

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