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'Court bums . . . hang around because we enjoy it.'

January 07, 1986|PERRY C. RIDDLE

If you've heard the four notes introducing the "Dragnet" theme, you've heard the trombone of Harold Diner. He was a first-chair player for studio orchestras for more than 30 years. The North Hollywood resident spent as much time in court as in the orchestra and still frequents the Van Nuys courthouse.

It all started about 34 years ago when a man fell through my ceiling putting air conditioning in the house. He never fixed the ceiling properly, so I took him to small claims court. It was so interesting that I started going downtown to the big trials. I just loved listening to good attorneys and some of the characters that were involved.

I was under contract to Paramount Studios. They had a studio orchestra, and I was on call whenever we had to record. If I had to work in the morning, I'd go to court in the afternoon.

As a musician, if I knew that I was going to be playing the solo coming up on the show I used to get a little upset. If I was playing tennis or golf I'd be thinking about the solo I had to play. But when I'd sit in court, everything would leave. I would just get tuned right in to what was happening, and I had complete relaxation.

It was very frustrating to get locked into a trial that I couldn't wait to get back to and get called to work. I'm serious! It was very frustrating, because I'd be sitting there in the orchestra wondering "what's happening?" I always had one of the court observers cover for me and make notes so that I could follow the trial.

I call us court observers, court bums, court watchers. Most of us are retired. We hang around because we enjoy it and we're interested in the system.

I learn something every time I go to court. Even the usage of a new word. I felt as though I was improving my mind. I've heard Melvin Belli a dozen times, people like him. You always pick up something of their approach to things. It has definitely helped me, even appearing before the IRS a few times. I get called down every once in a while. They ask me questions and I come up with answers just like that. And they're always accepted.

I just got my next-door neighbor hooked on it. She became a widow a few years ago, and I used to see her sitting around in the afternoon, usually just reading on her porch. I asked her one day if she wanted to come. She can't wait to go every day. Her daughter's an attorney and so she's hooked. She couldn't be at a case yesterday morning, so I took notes for her. I called her last night and gave her the verdicts, and I also filled her in on the cross-examination.

I have told young students who've come to court: "After you become an attorney or before you even take your test, you could learn more sitting in a courtroom for a few days than you will at any law class."

Now I'm semi-retired. I only work the kind of things I want to do. My wife and I do lots of traveling. We've been to Japan, the Far East, Europe five times, any place you could think of.

I went to court in Singapore when I was on vacation. There was a Chinese judge wearing the white English wig. It's really something. The courtrooms are tremendous: so staid, the atmosphere. Completely different from ours. Nobody talks. The public sits upstairs.

The trial was very interesting. This man from New York had overstayed his visa, and he claimed he ran out of money and he wired New York to send him money and nothing happened. So here he was. He was destitute. Didn't have anything. The judge says, "I give you until midnight to get out of Singapore or you'll go to jail." Very tense atmosphere in Singapore. So proper.

Most people just don't know what to do with themselves when they retire, and I at least know. I have someplace and I have something to look forward to every day, and I consider myself blessed to know that I get that much satisfaction and pleasure and knowledge through my hobby.

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