Fictional Attorney of the Month: Officer Shrift


Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth is a silly and delightful book. Just over 50 years old, it recounts the exploits of a bored boy, Milo, who finds a tollbooth in his bedroom one day. The tollbooth whisks him away to a fantastic land of grammar and language and numbers, and he is aided by the watchdog Tock. He meets a host of amusing characters, including Officer Shrift. He is, appropriately enough, "the shortest policeman Milo had ever scene. He was scarcely two feet tall and almost twice as wide, and he wore a blue uniform with white belt and gloves, a peaked cap, and a very fierce expression." (You can see that the illustration by Jules Feiffer captures this image perfectly.)

But Officer Shrift styles himself a lawyer at one point, and while he may not be an attorney in the formal sense, he's close enough to serve as the Fictional Attorney of the Month. (And it offers a small separation-of-powers lesson, too.) 

"You have committed the following crimes," he continued: "having a dog with an unauthorized alarm, sowing confusion, upsetting the applecart, wreaking havoc, and mincing words."
"Now see here," growled Tock angrily.
"And illegal barking," he added, frowning at the watchdog. "It's against the law to bark without using the barking meter. Are you ready to be sentenced?"
"Only a judge can sentence you," said Milo, who remembered reading that in one of his schoolbooks.
"Good point," replied the policeman, taking off his cap and putting on a long black robe. "I am also the judge. Now would you like a long or a short sentence?"
"A short one, if you please," said Milo.
"Good," said the judge, rapping his gavel three times. "I always have trouble remembering the long ones. How about 'I am'? That’s the shortest sentence I know."
Everyone agreed that it was a very fair sentence, and the judge continued: "There will also be a small additional penalty of six million years in prison. Case closed," he pronounced, rapping his gavel again.