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The judge wasn't bonding with war protesters

Saturday, March 22, 2003

For anti-war demonstrators more likely to have dryer lint in their wallets than $125, yesterday's arraignments before District Justice Eugene Zielmanski lacked a certain something: release.

Some suspects heard their charges read at auctioneer speed, were handed paperwork and told to come up with 10 percent of $1,000 bond, which, in the logic of city government, amounts to $125 because of assorted shipping and handling fees.

"I'm worried about the bond," a young man named Wayne Curry told Zielmanski.

"Welcome to America," Zielmanski replied.

In America, people charged with crimes can walk out with a mere promise to appear for subsequent court hearings, or may be compelled to post an amount of money. It depends on the vagaries of the judge. In the morning arraignments yesterday, other magistrates released people on their own recognizance, meaning they didn't have to put up any money. Zielmanski, a former city homicide detective and U.S. Army veteran, 1958-60, was not vague. Vagueness does not suit him.

"I'm red, white and blue and God bless America," he explained during a break. "And God bless our service people. All of them."

While not specifically written into the judicial code, this philosophy made for an interesting afternoon.

"But that's me," Zielmanski said. "I'm ultra-conservative."

Zielmanski seemed a bit disappointed when Chuck Van Keuren showed up from the public defender's office, and unabashedly annoyed when Van Keuren started speaking.

When Rachel Lang was brought in and read her charges, Van Keuren broke in from behind the large fence that separates the arraignment area from the spectators' seats.

"Your honor, I would request my client be released on her own recognizance based on the minor nature of the charges," Van Keuren said.

"Sounds good," Zielmanski said. "I'm denying it."

In came the next suspect, wearing cargo pants and a black sweat shirt advertising something called "Alternative Tentacles." If ever a man looked worthy of being thrown out of jail, this was it.

Zielmanski again demanded bond.

"What is the court basing these cash bonds on?" Van Keuren asked. "Are there prior records? Do you consider them a flight risk? Are there doubts about their addresses?"

"Sir," Zielmanski shot back, "I'm doing my arraignments. If you've got a problem with that, go to the president judge."

Shortly after Zielmanski set a $125 bail for an ACLU legal observer who was swept up in the arrests, Van Keuren was on the phone in search of a court order to permit demonstrators to forgo processing at the jail, be arraigned and, on the recommendation of the jail warden, be released on their own recognizance.

Shortly afterward, from stage right, came a jail officer who informed Zielmanski "Everybody's to be ROR [released on their own recognizance] that has a legal residency in Pennsylvania."

Zielmanski vanished for more than an hour. When he returned, he resumed arraignments. And demanding bond.

Came Josh Klein, a local organizer for Anti-Racist Action. Klein moved here from Ohio a year ago and hasn't changed his driver's license.

"You want to call my jobs?" he asked the judge.

"Where do you work?" Van Keuren asked.

"Sir!" Zielmanski shouted back. "This is an arraignment. Keep quiet."

"I have a right to ... ." Van Keuren pleaded.

"Keep quiet or I'll have you removed from the court."

As Klein flipped off the judge when Zielmanski wasn't looking, the next guy was also told to post bond.

"Where do you live?" Van Keuren asked.

"Swissvale," he said.

"Your honor," Van Keuren asked, "Where does the paperwork indicate my client lives?"

Zielmanski checked the document.

"Swissvale Avenue," he said. But, as Zielmanski pointed out, it hadn't been confirmed.

In the law, proof is everything. In the hallway, the ATM was doing a nice business.

Dennis Roddy can be reached at droddy@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1965.

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