My job is to see beauty in ugly situations
‘I feel really grateful to be able to have those moments.’
By Elliot Brady, as told to Philip Eil
Elliot Brady, 37, is a magistrate in Wilmington, N.C.
My main responsibility is setting bail bonds for arrested defendants. I also rule on and issue search warrants and arrest warrants and conduct hearings with the defendant after they’re arrested, explaining the charges and letting them know what the next steps are and setting their court date. I work a night schedule: 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. [Even without a pandemic,] I’m behind glass for most of it, when I encounter the defendants. But it’s all in-person.
We are the first look at the judicial system that the defendant gets. So it’s incredibly important to maintain professionalism. Because it’s important for the defendant to believe that they’re actually getting fair treatment. And the interactions with the police are often adversarial from the start. I’m there to make sure the defendant’s constitutional rights are being protected. Habeas corpus is: You’re not allowed to be jailed without somebody doing some kind of assessment as to why, and you have to have a meaningful opportunity to see an impartial arbiter. I try to make it very clear that I’m not a police officer and I don’t work for the police. I work for the court system. It’s kind of like the guy that checks the airplane before it takes off. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I’m just going, “Yup . . . OK . . . yup . . . all right . . . that looks good . . . good to go.” And it can be very monotonous. But you want someone who cares and knows what they’re doing in that job.
At least half of my “business” is either domestic violence or DWI. The other half is a mix of drug possession, weapons possession, property crimes — thefts and what we call “obtaining property by false pretenses,” which is selling something that isn’t yours, which is almost always drug-related. Then there’s violent assaults. Sometimes you get some more rare stuff — insurance fraud, things like that.
I kind of see it all when it comes to what goes on with people. I’ve had people come in absolutely out of their mind on PCP, screaming, yelling, spitting. I’ve seen folks urinate on themselves right in front of me. I deal with a lot of vomit at work. It’s really sort of the grimier side of humanity, at times. But it’s still humanity. And I’m the kind of person who can see beauty in even the ugliest stuff. I deal with folks from every part of the economic spectrum, every race, every gender, every situation. It is probably one of the worst days of their life that they’re seeing me. I deal with a lot of people who are suffering, truly suffering, from addiction. And when I see somebody who I think maybe could benefit from just a conversation with a human being, then I try to do that. And I try to give them the impression that I care about them and I care if they live or die. Because a lot of the folks I see, they’re not getting that message from anybody in their life. Sometimes people just need to hear that.
I feel really grateful to be able to have those moments where I can talk to somebody and make a little bit of a connection that I normally wouldn’t. And I hope that it’s good for them too. That’s probably the best part about my job.