Christmas Day broke outside the Rock Hill Law Center Friday morning and shortly afterward the holiday began with bond court. Santa Claus sat on the bench.
Longtime Municipal Judge Ray Long, a Baptist preacher, held court Christmas Day wearing a red sweater. He has white hair and a white beard and is stout. Yes – Judge Long looks like Santa Claus.
Friday, Christmas Day in Rock Hill even for those who had been in jail, the judge who looks like Santa did more than look the part.
People accused of crimes from drunken driving to domestic violence to being drunk in public to shoplifting appeared in the tiny courtroom via video monitoring from the jail in the building. Rock Hill Police Department officer Michael Long – no relation to the judge – was there and court clerk Nadine Agurs was there, and a lady worked in the jail with the accused.
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Long used the word “mercy” several times. He accepted a guilty plea from the first guy who had been in jail for four days for shoplifting.
“Go home and be with your family for Christmas,” Judge Long said.
The next guy had four kids and claimed that he stole from Walmart on Christmas Eve for presents for the kids. The man was on probation for other crimes. Long told him, and others, that there is no reason to shoplift. That charities will help anyone get Christmas toys for children.
The next man accused of public intoxication was sent home by the judge who admonished the man, saying “drinking – alcohol – caused this.”
Long grew up a stone’s throw from the police station literally on the other side of the railroad tracks, the son of an alcoholic father. One Christmas as a child, the judge said his father choked him during a drunken rage.
Long said he has never taken a drink and has counseled thousands who have taken armloads of drinks and ended up in jail.
The judge cried as a woman shook in court as she tried to sign court forms, admitting she was an alcoholic and that’s why she was in jail.
Judge Long cried for her.
Another woman came in, crying, saying she stole toys from the Newport Walmart so her two kids would have gifts. Long told her as he told others about not having to steal.
Long told her to go hug that family that had made sure the kids had toys and he gave the woman a personal recognizance bond. The woman cried and thanked Judge Long. She wore a Clemson shirt because “They are number one,” the woman said.
“Go home and be number one to your kids,” Long told her.
Another woman came in after being arrested late on Christmas Eve for shoplifting – again from Walmart. The woman told Judge Long that she had enough money to buy one toy for her son.
“I tried to not pay for the second toy,” she said in court.
Long again spoke about help available for the poor from so many places.
“If you had come to this police department and told somebody you needed Christmas for your children, somebody would have gotten your children Christmas,” Long said.
The judge asked how many toys the child was set to receive on Friday, Christmas, with his mother in jail.
“One toy,” the woman said.
Long asked how old the child was.
“He’s 7,” the woman said.
The woman spoke of her father watching the son while she was jailed, and how the father has liver cancer. The woman then said words that caused the quiet little courtroom to be even more quiet.
“My son is disabled – special needs – and he can’t talk,” the woman said. “He likes things that spin. Things with wheels.”
The judge wiped his eyes and wiped his nose. The cop, also named Long, sat in silence and tried not to cry. The clerk was silent. She tried not to cry.
Long counseled the woman and told her she would get a personal recognizance bond and be out soon.
Then he pulled out his wallet.
Judge Long, a father and grandfather, a husband, the son of an alcoholic father, pulled out his own money and gave it to the police officer. It was a big bill.
“Run by Walgreen’s – they are open today,” Long said. “I saw it on my way in.”
Judge Long cried as he sat there.
The police officer had already pulled out his wallet to make the toy run and others including the lady working the jail who heard this in this tiny law center on Christmas Day had reached for money, too.
The officer, who works in a job where so many in America say cops and courts are heartless, left to go get toys for a silent child who cannot speak whose mother was jailed on Christmas.