Archive for Thursday, August 11, 2005

Pray for judgment

August 11, 2005

A disheveled local man inked with tattoos and possessed by mad, wild eyes approached the bench Tuesday afternoon in Basehor Municipal Court and quickly attempted to explain his side of the case against him.

Judge William Pray, the long-time steward of the city's court system, stopped the man in his tracks.

"Hold on a second, sir," Pray said. "Let's take this up in an orderly manner."

Such is the clean, methodical manner in which Pray, the city's judge for the last 12 years, has used in negotiating the legal wrangles in local court systems such as Basehor, Lansing and Tonganoxie for more than a decade now.

For Pray, who also has private practice in Leavenworth, serves as the child support enforcement officer for Leavenworth County and was a district court judge pro-tem in the late 80s, the law is more than a labor of love.

It's a way of life.

"My retirement plan is to drop dead on the way to the courthouse," said Pray, a humble, flesh-and-blood jurist who shares only the black robe as a common trait with the courtroom dupes on afternoon television. "I can't ever see myself not working.

"I enjoy practicing law as both a judge and an attorney. I've been practicing for 30 years. You can't do it that long if you don't love it."

Pray, 53 of Leavenworth, wasn't always so certain of his future in the courtroom. Having previously been diagnosed with leukemia, he left the bench for six months in 2001 so he could undergo a bone marrow transplant.

The time away reaffirmed his desire to be in the courtroom.

"It gave me a chance to think about what I enjoy doing and this is what I enjoy doing," he said.

While conducting hearings in municipal courts, Pray doesn't see many hardened criminals; municipal courts hear misdemeanor level crimes only. However, during his tenure, he's seen some bizarre ones.

"My favorite was the 13-year-old girl who was stopped for driving without a license and speeding," said Pray, while muffling an impending chuckle. "She was doing 90 (miles per hour) in a 50 (miles per hour zone). Her defense was her sister was drunk in the back seat and she was the designated driver.

"I've seen about everything out there, but that one stands out."

Tuesday afternoon in Basehor, Pray could be seen patiently giving defendants amply opportunity to explain their side of the facts, scolding those who previously missed court appearances or reducing fines in certain situations.

It's the duty of court officers to give each case appropriate attention and Pray takes the job seriously no matter the severity of the alleged crimes, he said.

"I always think of most cases as a jig-saw puzzle and it's our job to see how the pieces fit together so we can learn what's really going on, what the real picture is," he said. "Obviously, we try to do the best we can."

Tuesday, Pray lets the defendant in front of him -- the same ruffled man who began so vehemently defending himself -- carefully lay out his defense against numerous traffic citations. The man is a "frequent flier," a nickname given to defendants who appear in court often and Pray has listened to the man before.

After the defendant has finished pleading his case, the judge begins poking holes in his rationale and eventually orders him to pay more than $300 in fines.

Pray will be doing the same thing, presiding over local courts, the next day in Lansing and the day after in Tonganoxie using the same level-headed, law comes first, excuses second, approach.

"I put a few miles on the car," he said. "It's worth it, though."

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