Monday, August 24, 2015

Act III Episode 2 - David Brenner Breaks into the Judge's Chambers

Act III Episode 2 – David Brenner Breaks into the Judge’s Chambers

 Image result for Daniels Somers Point NJ

Over dinner at Daniel’s restaurant on Shore Road, sitting at a table for six near the bar and piano, David Brenner announced to his crew and his secretary’s parents what the story was they were going to work on.

As they wrapped up their Italian seafood dinner with some red wine, Brenner’s secretary took a $5 bill over to the piano player and put it in Bobby Chic’s cup and requested a song – Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea,” as she had done twice earlier in the evening.

As they sat back after dinner, Brenner recounted how they were filming in Bay Shores when the college kid on the motorcycle rode in and around the dance floor and got arrested, and how they followed him being taken away by Bader’s Raiders in the paddy wagon and followed that to City Hall where they discovered Judge Helfant’s Midnight court where they processed all the drunks and disorderlies, but Helfant wouldn’t let the camera into the court room.

“We’re going to pay the Judge a visit tomorrow,” Brenner said, “and see what he has to say on camera.”

The next morning, waking up at his secretary’s family house in the exclusive Gardens section of Ocean City, they took their time getting ready, and over coffee and sticky buns read the old news reports that mentioned Judge Helfant that his secretary had dutifully compiled over the past few days.

Timing themselves to arrive around noon, when Brenner knew the administrators and bureaucrats would have their guards down, they parked outside the front door of the Old City Hall and with camera rolling went in and found the place deserted. Brenner went to the back of the room, and through a swinging wood waist high door, went into the back offices and knocked on the door with the frosted glass painted “Judge E. Helfant.”

When nobody answered he opened the door and with the cameraman filming, he began going through the office files until he found the one labeled Midnight Court, which listed the initials of a half dozen people who each got a take from the income from fines, but no other records.

Sitting behind the judge’s desk in his plush leather chair, Brenner picked up a Somers Point phone book and looking up Helfant’s name found it listed and called him. Since the judge had gone to the open all night Flamingo Motel Lounge in Atlantic City after wrapping up the court at 3 am the previous night, he was still asleep, having only gone to bed a few hours earlier.

“Hello,” he answered groggily.

“Judge Helfant?” Brenner asked.


“This is David Brenner from KYW TV 3. I met you in court the other night, err morning and you wouldn’t let me film.”

“Yes, I remember, what do you want?” he asked as if annoyed.

“Well we’re doing a story and want to ask  you a few questions.”

“You can go to hell,” the Helfant said.

“Well, I’m in your office right now, calling you from your phone on your desk, and we’ve just gone over your Midnight Court files and low and behold – there are none!”

“Can you tell me who these initials stand for on the receipt in the file?”

Helfant replied, “Stay right there, you will be arrested for breaking and entering shortly,” and then hung up.
Helfant then called the pay phone at Charlie’s Bar, across the street from City Hall, and asked for the Chief, the Chief of Police, who he instructed to go to his office and arrest Brenner and whoever else was there.

 Image result for Charlies Bar Somers Point NJ 1965

 George Robert's Real Estate Office and Charlie's Bar

Brenner instructed his cameraman to go outside with his secretary and film the arrival of the police and the judge, so he too wouldn’t get arrested, and the chief, with two officers in tow,  found Brenner sitting in the Judge’s chair smoking one of his cigars.

“You’re under arrest,” the chief said, and as the other two cops began putting hand cuffs on Brenner and the chief read him his rights the mayor walked in from Gregory’s down the street, wanting to know what was going on as Judge Helfant arrived at his office.

“I want to make a phone call,” Brenner said, and after a short discussion the chief ordered one of the handcuffs removed and they allowed Brenner to call his office from the Judge’s desk phone.

Brenner got his producer at KYW on the phone and told him he was being arrested in Somers Point and may need some bail money, though the amount hadn’t been set.

“Five grand,” Judge Helfant said, overhearing the conversation.

Though they couldn’t hear Brenner’s boss on the other end of the line, he said something like, “This is the third time in two years you’ve been busted on a story,” he said, as Brenner put his hand over the phone so the others in the room couldn’t hear it.

“Five Grand is not something I can come up with without going before the finance committee so you’re going to spend the night in jail and have to get yourself out of this one,” and hung up.

“Thanks,” Brenner said, “I won’t let you down, we have it all on film and it’s a great story,” he continued as if still speaking to his boss, bluffing and putting his best poker face on with the Judge, the mayor, the chief of police and two police officers in the small judge’s chambers.

“Well,” Brenner said, “you can either let me go and I’ll owe you one, and that will be reflected in my story, that will be seen by a half million people in the Philadelphia – Delaware Valley area, or you can throw me in jail and we can go to court and I’ll reveal all of the Shenanigans you’ve been pulling off in your own court room.

After a heated discussion between the mayor, the chief and the judge, the chief ordered a cop to remove the handcuff from Brenner’s other hand, and told him to go and do whatever story he wanted but they would not cooperate or make a statement on camera. And if he was seen in Somers Point again he would be arrested for the breaking and entering, which carried a three year jail term and fine.

With his secretary behind the wheel of the white Chevy Van parked in front of City Hall, the cameraman stuck his head out the hole in the roof and filmed Brenner walking out the front door, a big smile on his face and clapping his hands. He gets in the passenger side and instructs his secretary to “get while the getting’s good,” and tells her to drive down that alley as he points across the street to Anchorage Lane.
Old City Hall, now the Atlantic County Library in Somers Poi nt
Arthur's Note: David Brenner later recounted this incident to Johnny Carson on one of Brenner's first appearances on the Tonight Show, on which he appeared as a guest or guest host over a hundred times - more than anyone else, and only Joan Rivers comes close.

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