3 The Courts

The second building in the Fortress of Justice compound is a building called the Courts. This is where justice is dealt from the benches of some of the most powerful individuals in the city—the judges. Long has Freeport’s criminal system been suspect, for what justice can be had in a town run by crooks? Over the life of the city, for every honest judge dedicated to the rule of law, there have been two on the take, selling their judgments to the lawyers.

About the same time as the Captains’ Council formed, work began on the Courts. Since no one wanted to fund the construction, the Courts were built from materials salvaged from old ruins, timber cut from the island’s forests, and boards harvested from ruined ships that washed up on the coasts around the city. Given the haphazard effort to build the place, it took almost a decade for the building to be finished enough to be used—though legends abound about collapsing floors, sagging ceilings, and crooked walls. The shoddy craftsmanship proved to be the structure’s undoing just ten years later when the entire building collapsed after a slight tremor, killing all the judges and a dozen lawyers.

The second attempt at erecting the Courts saw a bit more funding pour in from undisclosed sources to ensure proper building construction—one worthy of such an important process. Even though almost half of the funds vanished into the pockets of politicians, enough remained to erect a grand, stone building. It would take another ten years for it to be completed, but when it was done, it rivaled the palace in terms of expense and grandeur.

The Courts is a massive building constructed of imported Continental stone. It has a peaked roof on which is mounted a row of lightning rods. The face of the structure has a row of fifteen-foot-tall, narrow, stained glass windows that capture the likenesses of past Sea Lords and important citizens. A pair of towering bronze double doors at the top of a short flight of steps leads to its cavernous halls inside.

Just beyond the doors is the main entrance, where a small staff of clerks and guards inspect each visitor and collect weapons. On the other side of the main entrance is a large hall with equally large doors set on either side. The floor here is polished mahogany, and in the center is a large statue of an unknown man on a horse, lit from above by a round skylight set in the roof. While the Courts building is open, which is only five days a week for five hours each day, people pack the halls. Lawyers meet with clients, while chained criminals stand glumly, awaiting their sentences. Clerks and servants scurry from cluster to cluster, taking notes, delivering messages, and filling the air with the din of their chatter.

Through the doors to either side of the great hall are two more hallways equipped with four more doors on the opposite sides. The smaller halls lead to courtrooms. The courtrooms to the south are used for criminal cases, while the ones to the north are for civil cases. Each courtroom is more or less identical. About a dozen benches form an aisle leading to a pair of tables, each with three or four chairs. At the far end of the courtroom is a high podium that towers over the entire room. The judge reaches a leather chair by climbing a set of steep steps. This a challenging proposition for a hale judge and positively impossible for the old ones. Many courtrooms have fantastic contraptions that involve a jumble of pulleys, ropes, and harnesses for hefting an elder justice to his seat.

Behind the courtrooms are more halls, stairs, offices, and private rooms where a judge can hold private conferences with attorneys and their clients. It’s easy to get lost in these labyrinthine passages, and many a doddering judge has vanished only to be found months later, dead and partly devoured by the rats that seem to infest this place.

Prominent NPCs
Judge Horatio Jones: Horatio Jones had an esteemed career as a prosecutor. Famed for never making plea bargains, he was responsible for the interments of countless citizens in his time in Freeport. Milton Drac appointed Jones a judge about a decade ago. In this time, he’s developed a reputation for handing down outrageous punishments, requiring incredible reparations to the guilty. Those who don’t do as the judge demands are thrown in the Tombs until Judge Jones feels they’ve learned their lesson. Horatio believes strong punishments deter future crimes, and therefore, he metes stiff penalties to those he finds guilty. Judge Jones is in his forties and has thinning brown hair, fat jowls, and big eyes. He’s put on a few pounds and has a tendency to sweat a lot.

Judge Alistair Strummer: Another civil judge, Alistair Strummer is a radical who bucks tradition by handing out unusual sentences. Rather than ordering fines, incarceration, or death, he requires the convicted to perform tasks of backbreaking manual labor for the betterment of Freeport. Examples include painting warehouses, draining swamps, working in Bloodsalt, or scraping barnacles off the piers. Alistair’s methods may be unconventional, but most Freeporters approve, seeing the improvements all over the city. Rather than paying the high costs of housing and feeding prisoners, they get something back from those who break the law. It’s not easy work, but it’s better than hanging, so most criminals in the city have nothing but good words for this judge and even watch out for him.

Alistair is in his mid-fifties, thin, with narrow features and head of graying black hair. He has dark eyes and lined features. When he thinks, he tends to pucker his lips and tap them with his forefinger.

Judge Charlene Rhodes: Judge Rhodes, a new justice appointed at the same time as the current Sea Lord, is something of a maverick. She’s more interested in defining Freeport society than in upholding the law. It’s a well-known fact she has a grudge against magic users, and when such an individual is brought before her, she hands out stiff penalties. The same intolerance extends to the various religious institutions, and some claim she has priests arrested on trumped up charges just to harass them.

Charlene is in her mid-thirties. She has long, brown hair that she pulls up in a bun. Stern countenance, narrow eyes, and a tendency to scowl make this otherwise attractive woman thoroughly unpleasant.

Judge Shamus McGowan: Judge McGowan is alarmed by the terrible overcrowding of Freeport’s prison and is attempting to find other ways keep violent criminals away from society. Those found guilty in Judge McGowan’s courtroom are forcibly deported, sent to the Hulks, or marooned on one of the many tiny islands around Freeport.

Shamus is a gaunt man in his late sixties. His reedy voice shakes when he speaks, and he always appears on the verge of collapsing into frightened tears. He has thin, gray hair and sallow features. A few of the guards place bets on when the old man will keel over.

Judge Alfred Ubu: Also known as “Bloody” Judge Ubu, this justice is a spectacularly flamboyant psychopath and sadist. He’s particularly fond of sentencing criminals to death in horrible—though very creative—ways. There is the standard beheading and hanging, as well as drowning, immolation, and dismemberment. Judge Ubu was one of the many corrupt officials to flourish under Milton Drac. Commissioner Williams sought to remove him from office, but the judge had very powerful friends on the Captains’ Council.

Although Alfred is thin, he has pleasant features, a quick smile, and a disturbing habit of chuckling when he hands out his sentences. When not in dark judges’ robes, he wears clothes cut in the latest fashions.

Judge Frederick Drent: Another newcomer, Frederick Drent is about as corrupt as they come. Soft Frederick—as the crime lords call him—has never given a significant punishment to anyone affiliated with Freeport’s numerous crime lords. Community service, token fines, and stern reproofs are the extent of his judgments. Of course, this never applies to minor criminals, petty thieves, or dishonest merchants. Judge Drent is especially harsh with these poor souls, condemning them to stints in the Hulks as a means to conceal the rather obvious fact he’s on the take.

Attempts to expose Drent’s corruption have all been for naught. He’s well insulated from his enemies, thanks to the toughs supplied by his employers. In addition, those employers grease the necessary palms in high places, which has so far prevented any action against him by the Captains' Council.

Drent is a man in his middle years. He has widely spaced features, greasy red hair, and freckled skin. He speaks with a lisp and is rumored to have disturbing hedonistic impulses that can only be calmed by the most depraved bordellos in the city.

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