I want to thank the City of Oklahoma City for making Project 180 so confusing that I ended up with a $50 ticket I had to contest in court. This is not sarcasm. It is a genuine moment of appreciation.
Friendships are an odd thing. You get to know someone, and then you go different directions in life, and a friendship ends up more like an acquaintance. You don’t mean it to happen. It just does. And when you meet up on the sadly rare occasion, you have a lot to catch up on, and you walk away wondering why you hadn’t kept in touch.
Such was the case with Bill Manger, who I first got to know when I was a cub reporter just making my mark covering the crime beat in the early 1990s. There was an opening on the Crime Stoppers Board, and I already had an idea of ripping off an idea I had seen in the Dallas Morning News of running a weekly “Most Wanted” feature (there’s now a local tabloid dedicated to just that). I was invited onto the board by Roger Wagnon, who was then in charge of the OCPD’s Crime Stoppers office. It was then that I met Bill, who was an attorney with the old Western Electric plant (I think it was AT&T at that point). He was a good guy, devoted to his community, and I enjoyed grabbing coffee with him after some of the meetings. He later became a city judge, and in 2003 he was asked to take over what had become a mess of a municipal court as presiding judge. Bill took on the task, and note that the operation has been free of any controversy ever since.
Bill and I would always enjoy catching up when we ran into each over the past several years – but it was always by happenstance. And when it was time to plead my ticket (City Manager Jim Couch even suggested I do so), it was pure random luck that the judge hearing my case was none other than Bill. I plead “no contest,” explained the confusing situation with unmarked parking spots on unfinished Project 180 streets, and he kindly reduced my ticket from $50 to $20 in open court. His friendliness and reasonableness was not just directed at me – as I waited my turn in his courtroom, I saw him kindly and respectfully greet each and every visitor to his courtroom (I say visitors, because for Bill, no one was a defendant really – they were all guests with unpleasant business awaiting to be addressed). Away from the courtroom, Bill and I visited and talked about downtown’s transformation. We talked about the plans for construction of a new court building. I spoke excitedly, of course, when I realized he didn’t know about Retro Metro OKC, and I urged him to visit the site and look at the old photos of the city.
This was two weeks ago. Bill died overnight as his city was celebrating the Thunder triumphing over the Dallas Mavericks in the first games of the NBA playoffs. That $20 ticket was well worth the chance to see my old friend one last time. And if I had known his days were limited, I’d gladly pay $50 or more to have had the chance to enjoy one last cup of coffee with his honor.
After searching Oklahoman archives, this story by co-worker Don Mecoy best captures Bill’s service to our city:
Busy court dockets help judge feel the love for his vocation
By Don Mecoy
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Municipal Judge William J. Manger is in his element, attired in a black robe, seated before a television set and camera presiding over video arraignments of prisoners housed in the Oklahoma County jail.
“I’m not very popular today,” Manger said, as yet another stone-faced inmate walked off-screen without acknowledging the judge’s comments.
Manger tells an inmate charged with assault and battery that he can post bail or stay in jail until his court date. The man shakes his head and stalks off camera.
“We didn’t tell him what he wanted to hear,” Manger said.
Harold, an older inmate who has appeared so frequently before Manger that the judge addresses him by his first name, says he will serve jail time at a rate of $75 per day to cover his fine. Told he’ll get out on July 3 or July 4, Harold replies, “What day is this?”
“We’ll see you next time,” Manger said as Harold departs.
“He’ll be back on the fifth,” the judge said.
Finally, a woman who has spent two days in jail expresses gratitude when Manger dismisses part of a traffic fine so she can go free immediately.
“God bless you, sir,” she said.
“There it is,” Manger said. “Now we’re feeling the love.”
Manger’s humor is limited to comments between arraignments, which he takes seriously. But his enthusiasm for the work is evident.
“I love this job. I enjoy coming to work every day because no day is the same as the day before,” he said.
Manger has been an Oklahoma City municipal judge for more than five years and has been the presiding judge since 2003. He was hired by and answers to the Oklahoma City Council.
The presiding judge shoulders more administrative duties than the other municipal judges and needs to able to communicate effectively with staff members and city council members, who regularly check on cases, Manger said.
“We’re as good as support personnel, and we have an outstanding support group from our employees in court administration, and they are to be commended for the work that they do on an everyday basis for all the judges and the public,” Manger said.
The most serious cases municipal judges handle are called “jury division” cases and include offenses such as driving under the influence of alcohol, marijuana possession, and assault and battery.
The court’s busy dockets are filled with contested traffic violations and defendants who have failed to pay fines.
Manger, 61, said he hasn’t become jaded by the routine, which can involve up to 200 cases per day.
“You need to recognize that we live in a diverse city, and when a defendant comes into your courtroom, you have to understand that this may be their very first encounter with the legal system, and you have to be patient with defendants in front of you who aren’t represented (by an attorney),” he said.
Manger said he most enjoys dealing with the public and offered this tale to illustrate:
A woman in her 80s, when asked by Manger for her plea, responded: “Guilty, sonny.”
“I said, ‘Ma’am, I appreciate that. You’ve been very honest. You’re not wasting the court’s time, and you’re certainly not in contempt because maybe I am young enough to be your son. So let me give you the minimum fine in this case,’ ” Manger said.
But that’s not to say that Manger can’t be stern.
In one instance, a defendant who already had been granted extensions to pay a fine was seeking more time. When Manger asked why she was unable to pay the city, the defendant said the money was spent on her bill for cable TV.
“My clerk didn’t even wait; she just dialed for the marshal,” he said. “So they had the option to either pay or stay (in jail) at the rate of $75 a day. When I send someone with the marshal, they’ve pretty much tested everybody’s patience.”
About 90 percent of defendants pay their fines or bond when offered the choice of “pay or stay,” Manger said.
Manger definitely feels the love when it comes to his vocation.
“I have absolutely no desire to go anywhere else but right here and end my career here as long they’ll have me,” he said.