Santa goes on trial
By Lynn R. Parks
Courts re-enact classic film
Superior Court in Georgetown is usually a solemn place. But on Wednesday, the courtroom, where matters of life and death are often decided, was a place where children gathered to sing “Jingle Bells.”
Where the judge, the prosecuting and defense attorneys and even the bailiff joined in. And where the bearded, jolly man leading them all with waves of his cane had just been the subject of a competency hearing.
Superior Courts throughout the state put aside serious business last week for reenactments of the courtroom scene from the 1947 holiday classic, “Miracle on 34th Street.” Three presentations were made in each county, on Tuesday in Kent County, Wednesday in Sussex County and Thursday in New Castle County.
As he was in the movie, Kris Kringle was found competent, despite his claim to be the true Santa Claus. His lawyer presented as evidence thousands of letters, addressed to Santa and ready to be delivered by the United State Postal Service to Mr. Kringle.
“If the U.S. government deems this man to be Santa Claus, this court will not dispute it,” said Delaware Supreme Court Justice Henry duPont Ridgely, pushing aside stacks of letters to find his gavel. “Case dismissed.”
That verdict was despite the best efforts of Delaware Attorney Jane Brady, acting as prosecutor. Her case started unraveling when Madeline Hughes, playing Brady’s daughter, told the court that her mother had told her that there is a Santa Claus. “And you always tell the truth, don’t you mommy,” said Hughes, 7, Wilmington.
In the face of childhood trust, Brady conceded the existence of Santa Claus.
Wilmington attorney and former chief judge of the Family Court Vincent Poppiti played the part of Santa’s defense attorney. Santa was played by Daniel Slipetsky, Bear, a retired teacher (with an authentic, long white beard) and a professional Santa Claus.
Poppiti called to the stand store owner R. H. Macy (played by Chris Mourse) and U.S. postmaster Frederick Wilcox (played by Gary Coy).
The reenactment was the brainchild of attorney Richard Herrmann, a partner in the Wilmington law firm Blank Rome, where Poppiti is also a partner. Herrmann said that he got the idea after watching the 1996 remake of the 1947 black and white classic, in which Natalie Wood made her acting debut. It took him until now to get permission from 20th Century Fox to use the original 1947 movie script.
Notices were sent out to public schools in June, asking if there was any interest in attending the movie scene reenactment. “By noon the next day, we were sold out,” Herrmann said.
“This is a great civics lesson,” he added. “Children see the workings of the court, what a judge does and what the role of the attorney is.”
About 1,300 third and sixth graders saw the production. Children who attended the presentation were invited to write essays about what they learned about the court system from the reenactment. The best essay will be published next Christmas season in the Delaware Bar Association Magazine.
Herrmann played a state psychologist in the courtroom drama, a role that was added for the reenactment. He testified that he spent 45 minutes testing the mental capability of Kris Kringle, and determined that Kringle suffered from delusions. “Let’s face it, the man thinks he’s Santa Claus,” he said with a smirk.
Brady argued that it was the state’s responsibility to put Kringle in an institution, where he would be safe. “He might get injured carrying a heavy bag of toys,” she said. “Or climbing down a chimney. Or trying to fly reindeer over the state of Delaware.”
But Poppiti won the hearts of those in the courtroom when he offered his description of Santa Claus: “He brings life and cheer to this holiday season,” he said. “Kris Kringle lives day to day, month to month, for one day of the year and spends his entire life spreading good will.
“There is a little bit of Santa Claus in each one of us,” he added. But with all that has to be done in the Christmas season, “there has got to be one person to pull the season all together. And that person is my client, Kris Kringle.”
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