Jay Grodner, the Chicago lawyer who keyed a Marine's car in anger because the car had military plates and a Marine insignia, finally got his day in court last week.
Grodner pleaded guilty in a Chicago courtroom packed with former Marines. Some had Marine pins on their coats, or baseball jackets with the Marine insignia. They didn't yell or call him names. They came to support Marine Sgt. Michael McNulty, whose car Grodner defaced in December, but who couldn't attend because he's preparing for his second tour in Iraq.
Grodner was late to court for the second time in the case. Grodner called Assistant State's Attorney Patrick Kelly, (Marine Corps/Vietnam 1969-1972), informing Kelly that he would be late to court.
"He wanted to avoid the media," Kelly said Friday. "So he's coming a half hour late."
"I don't run my courtroom that way!" responded Judge William O'Malley, ordering Grodner be arrested and held on $20,000 bail when he arrived.
Finally, Grodner strolled in. A short man, wide, wearing a black fedora, dark glasses, a divorce lawyer dressed like some tough guy in the movies.
Grodner told me he'd describe himself as a "radical liberal" who's ready to leave Chicago now with all this negative publicity and move to the south of France and do some traveling.
Judge O'Malley has also traveled, but in his youth. He was a police officer on the West Side during the riots before law school. And before that, he performed another public service. Judge O'Malley served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1961-1964.
During the proceedings, the judge described the offense as anger rose in his voice, especially as Grodner started balking on a plea arrangement he'd made with prosecutors.
"Is this what you did? Yes or no," Judge O'Malley asked Grodner.
"Without knowing, yes," Grodner said, sticking to his I-might-have-done-it-but-didn't-really-mean-it defense.
O'Malley asked again, in a stronger voice, not that of a judge but of a cop on the street or a Marine who meant business.
"DID YOU KNOWINGLY CAUSE DAMAGE TO THIS CAR?" O'Malley asked.
Grodner bowed his head, meekly, and responded in an equally meek voice:
"Yes," he said.
After the admission, came the details and Grodner was lucky, getting off with a misdemeanor and no jail time, and not a felony even though he caused $2,400 in damage to Sgt. McNulty's car.
So Grodner received a $600 fine, which will go to a Marine charity, 30 hours of community service and a year of court supervision. If he doesn't pay up in a month, the judge promised to put him in jail for a year.
Judge O'Malley had something to say. He looked out into his courtroom, at all those men who'd come to support a Marine they didn't know.
"You caused damage to this young Marine sergeant's car because you were offended by his Marine Corps license plates," said Judge O'Malley.
Grodner stood there, hands behind his back. He grasped the fingers of his left hand with his right, and held it there, so they wouldn't wiggle.
"You're probably also wondering why there was a whole crowd of people here, Mr. Grodner," said Judge O'Malley.
"I don't want to wonder," said Grodner, continuing in his new meek voice, not in his tough divorce lawyer voice, but the gentle, inside voice he'd just learned.
"That's because there is a little principle that the Marine Corps has had since 1775," the judge continued. "When they fought and lost their lives so that people like you could enjoy the freedom of this country.
It is a little proverb that we follow:
"No Marine is left behind.
"So Sgt. McNulty couldn't be here. But other Marines showed up in his stead. Take him away," said the judge and former Marine.
They took Grodner away, he was processed, and everyone left. The lobby was dark, quiet, except for two court deputies running the metal detector. Then Grodner came through an inside door, put his fedora back on, the dark glasses, a tough guy again.
We stood outside, in the parking lot, talking for 20 minutes. He smoked, and I didn't. He explained that he wasn't anti-military and why he pleaded guilty.
"The judge, he's the guy with the black robes," Grodner said. He could have been slapped with a felony, but Sgt. McNulty's family said they wanted to put this behind them and let it go as a misdemeanor. Grodner showed no remorse, and I asked if he'd apologize.
"Yes, I'd say, 'I'm sorry if I scratched your car.' It escalated. That's when he wanted me locked up and thrown away," said Grodner, always the victim.
Grodner tells me he plans to leave for the French Riviera and get some sun.
Sgt. McNulty will get some sun, too. In Iraq.